Beyond Wires
By Michael Mattis, Tue Jun 27 00:00:00 GMT 2000

(July 17, 2000) Wireless will surpass wireline as the standard form of electronic communications in less than eight years. That prediction looks fairly prosaic presented here in simple black and white. Nevertheless, it has profound implications.


A new generation of mobile technologies, devices, applications, and services are poised to shatter the old paradigm that says that, in order to be connected - to information as well as to others - you must be 'wired,' tethered to a socket in a wall.

In Europe, due largely to the ubiquity of the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) standard, mobility is almost taken for granted. Thanks to the marriage of GSM to Wireless Application Protocol, or WAP, which allows people with the right hardware to surf specially-designed Web pages, European consumers from the Baltic Sea to the Czech Republic are already beginning to enjoy anytime, anywhere access to Internet-based information and services, such as airline reservations, sports scores, and even horoscopes.

Japan, too, has made great strides in this nascent field. The country's largest telecom, NTT DoCoMo, stands poised to launch the world's first Third Generation, or 3G mobile services, in 2001, promising consumers faster connections and media-rich applications. The United States, on the other hand, with its competing standards and relatively low penetration rates for mobile handsets seems like a sleeping giant. (Average penetration in Europe already tops 40 percent, 80 in Finland, while in the U.S., it appears stalled below 30.)

But the world's largest single economy won't sleep for long. Americans, reports Forrester Research, will spend USD 8.5 billion in 2005 on mobile services. Many think Forrester's estimate a conservative one. That certainly seems to be the case in Silicon Valley, the venture capital capital of the world, where dozens of startups are taking their ques from Europe, and are gearing up to carve their slice of the mobility pie.

Mobility is hot

From television specials - like the U.S. network CBS's "60 Minutes" program - to cover stories in print magazines the world over, visions of a global, mobile information society are spreading like wildfire. But it isn't all wine and roses and stock option riches. There will be many bumps in the road towards a truly mobile future. Take for example, Iridium, whose global network of 66 satellites, a USD 5 billion investment, will this year be retro rocketed into the earth's atmosphere to meet a fiery and ignominious death, the victim of too few promises realized at too high a cost.

TheFeature: Keeping You Informed

There's a lot of hype out there. The high tech business press, for example, has been gushing over UMTS, or Universal Mobile Communications System, the standard for 3G mobile services. UMTS, they say, promises data delivery at blinding speeds, up to 2000 kilobits per second. In reality, according a recent report by Durlacher, network capacity will likely slow that to around 260 kilobits per second. As a result, says the report, consumers may at first be justifiably disappointed.

Helping you separate the hope from the hype is just one of the reasons TheFeature is here. We're excited about mobility, and we expect you are too - you wouldn't be here if you weren't. We're excited, but not excitable. Our pages are dedicated to thorough reporting and reasoned opinion about the business, technological, and social issues facing the industry, and to presenting our users with a set visions about what it means to live in a global, mobile information society.

TheFeature has built a network of institutions and individuals to bring you - the influencers and decision-makers of the mobility sector - the kind of quality content that will help you in your business, your career, and your life. Our network includes hot-button magazines like Red Herring and The Industry Standard, Web publications such as TheRegister.com and TheStreet.com, plus a broad range of talented freelance journalists, writers and academic thinkers from all over the industry and the world.

We're Not All Business

The mobility revolution - the convergence of Internet with the mobile device - isn't just about value chains and balance sheets. It's also about people. Behind every new technology are the fascinating minds of those making it real. In addition, the mobility revolution stands ready to change not only the way people do business, but also the way people think, play and live. We'll cover not only the people making mobility happen, but also those ordinary folks whose lives will be affected by rapid, at times incomprehensible, change.

Knowledge

The mobility world is Byzantine on the best of days. Just keeping up with the abbreviations and acronyms can be dizzying. We believe learning, exploring, and sharing ought to be easy as well as fun. That's why we're building a comprehensive set of knowledge management tools to help you keep track of the valuable information we hope you'll find on TheFeature. We want people to think of this as a Thinking Space.

Community

TheFeature is more than a magazine. It is also an active community. Our members will be invited to learn and explore, but also to get to know one another, and to share ideas. Our community features include lively discussion forums that will explore hot-topic issues raised by our contributors.

Stir things up! Talk about the evolving wireless world. Share your visions of a mobile society. Voice your doubts of a mobile revolution. TheFeature discussion forum is yours.

Become a member of Michael Mattis is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. He has written previously for Business 2.0 and Upside.