Could this be “the” year?
The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, with the CDPD Forum and Andrew Seybold’s Outlook, will hold the Wireless APPS ’97 Convention and Exhibition Product Showcase this week in the technological mecca of Seattle. The show is in its third year focusing on the wireless data field.
“I think it’s taking on a life of its own,” said Tom Wheeler, CTIA president and chief executive officer. Indeed, it seems to be a life that closely reflects the evolving state of its industry, in sometimes striking ways.
As the field of wireless data has grown significantly this past year, so has the show’s size. Some 56 presenters have spaces reserved in the 13,000-square-foot exhibition space, almost double that of last year.
But despite its growth, the industry and the show face constant reminders of the challenges ahead, perhaps most readily apparent in the initial, albeit brief, decision to hold this year’s show in Los Angeles -until organizers realized the city has no Cellular Digital Packet Data network.
“We are in an environment where more than 50 percent of the wireline traffic is data (compared to) about 1 percent of wireless traffic,” Wheeler said, pledging CTIA’s commitment to wireless data. “There’s plenty of room for growth and that’s what we’re trying to accentuate.”
Industry analyst Andrew Seybold, also editor in chief of The Outlook-a wireless data newsletter-said it takes a while for any show to be established, and the continued momentum of Wireless APPS points to a bright future. “This is a signal to the industry that this is where wireless data happens,” Seybold said. “I think we’ll have a really highly charged show.”
The size of this year’s show reflects the growth of the mobile data industry, Seybold commented, not in terms of the number of subscribers, but in terms of the growing interest by others. “What has grown is the industry’s interest in wireless data,” he said, pointing to computer companies like Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp., both silent on mobile data in the past, now expressing interest.
“I see that as a really important step,” he said, pointing to the creation of handheld devices that can be synchronized to the computer. “What’s happening now with handheld devices is a demand from the end user, and that makes people stand up and pay attention.”
Such optimism for the future is nothing new among the mobile data industry. Each year seems to be the “on the brink” year. Seybold won’t go as far to repeat that, knowing how it sounds, but does defend the technology.
“We’re getting closer. Things are beginning to happen,” he said, noting that wireless data has challenges not shared by other wireless technologies. “This is not simply a new technology, but a number of different networks and players” in which few are integrating all servers for the user. “If you look at the new technology in a corporate environment-like computers, cell phones and even pagers-all were snuck in through the back door. Corporations didn’t embrace them when they were first introduced. But when enough employees brought them in, then they started with company policies. The problem with wireless data is that you can’t sneak it in.”
For wireless data to catch on in the corporate world, a commitment by a corporation is necessary, and that by nature is a difficult thing to accomplish and even more so when dealing with the ever-emerging new technologies of wireless data.
“One of the things I really like about the show is that it’s upbeat and I think it will be really upbeat this year,” Seybold said. “I think this year there will be a lot more discussions of end-to-end solutions. If there is one single thing I’m looking for (from the show), it’s for three or four companies to get together and move us closer.”
To accomplish this, the show will have three themes, said Wheeler, one for each day. The first day will focus on “what the current status is and what the blue-sky future might look like.” The second day will take this a step further and discuss “how to deliver it for real. We’ll be focusing on the down-and-dirty technology.” The third day will be looking at nondigital location applications.
“I’m a real techno-freak, so I’ll be looking forward to the whole thing,” Wheeler said.