The Wireless Tradeshow That Wasn't
By Justin Ried, Fri Sep 14 00:00:00 GMT 2001

At this year's CTIA Wireless IT & Internet conference in San Diego, California, telecommunications was the last thing on anybody's mind.

Having been severely jet-lagged, I woke up early on Tuesday and turned on CNN. It was just after 6AM PST, and the second jetliner had already slammed into the side of the World Trade Center's southern tower in Manhattan.

I sat there, in my hotel, eyes wide open and mouth gaping, unable to process what my eyes were absorbing. I instantly called up family and friends and told them to turn on their TVs. I then sat there, watching the events unfold for a full six hours after. And it seems just about everybody else in San Diego did the same.

More than a distraction

I finally tore myself away from the set and rushed down to the San Diego convention center, only to find out I was just about the only person who did. People were scattered sparsely here and there throughout the hall, and almost all of them were huddled around the TVs lining the hallways.

Normally, these would be showing the speeches taking place inside the hall, just in case there weren't enough seats for people who wanted to get in. Not this time. There weren't any speeches.

The vast majority of the speakers were no-shows, and Wednesday's keynote address was called off entirely. Of the three who were to deliver it, Don Listwin (president of Openwave Systems), Michael Mayer (general manager of IBM's pervasive computing division), and Irwin Jacobs (chairman of Qualcomm), only Jacobs made it - because he happens to live in the San Diego area.

IBM's Mayer and Openwave's Listwin were stranded in other parts of the country since the FAA grounded all flights for the first time in US history. In fact, throughout the show, Openwave's whole booth looked like a ghost town. Everything was set up, but no one was in it. The lights were on but no one was home. It was empty.

In fact, the whole show felt empty.

Like Openwave's, many booths went severely understaffed, or sat there with no staff at all. Emblaze Systems, the New York-based company which created a mobile MPEG-4 video chipset/player system, had only four of their expected 16 staffers on hand - and that was pretty standard fare for the event.

During a national tragedy isn't a good time to deliver a speech on the telecommunications industry, so nobody did. Immediately following a national tragedy isn't exactly a good time to make new product announcements or send out press releases either, so nobody did.

"We will go forward"

During Tuesday's opening address, which was happening simultaneously with the events in New York, the CTIA's president and CTO Tom Wheeler told attendees "This event will go forward. Evil will not prevail."

It won't prevail, but it sure can (and did) knock the wind out of it. Wheeler cut his speech short and the large presentation screen in the auditorium began showing CNN's coverage of the events.

The Game Show, which was to pit industry executives against venture capitalists in a bid for prizes, was cancelled. Josh Newman, Unstrung's Editor-in-Chief was still in New York on Wednesday.

The Fashionably Unwired World on the Runway, a professionally produced fashion show featuring wearable computing devices, was also cancelled.

Numerous workshops and educational sessions were cancelled. And so on.

I know we'll bounce back - our industry will bounce back - no doubt about it. That could be seen in the faces of our peers when we all got the news. If one good thing came out of any of this it was seeing how people from all parts of our industry, and all parts of the world, come together as individuals united in spirit and purpose.

We'll work together to push our industry forward, to overcome another obstacle and come away better for it. Just like we'll rebuild downtown Manhattan.

Justin Ried reporting from San Diego for TheFeature.