hypergene / media solutions

When in ROAM: Why wireless executive still don't get it
by Chris Willis

Thoughts about The Industry Standard's ROAM conference, Tucson, AZ. April, 2001

CINGULAR'S CEO, Stephen Carter, summed up the wireless conundrum with an anecdote about a child eargerly sketching away with her crayons in class.

"What are you drawing," the teacher asks.
"I'm drawing God," she replies.
"But, dear, no one knows what God looks like," says the teacher.
"I know," she says, "That's why I'm drawing."

When it comes to sketching out the wireless future, many executives are coming up blank. In Europe, carriers have spent $180 billion on 3G spectrum licenses and will likely spend that much more on infrastructure.

The collective mind of many wireless executives at the ROAM conference was one of great uncertainty. As a result many carriers and 3rd party providers have sought solace in the one thing that won't save them — technology.

Debates at the conference sounded like an alphabet soup of solutions — GPRS, 3G, SMS and WAP. But about whether WML is better than cHTML is akin to artists taking sides about which paint, acrylic or oil, will produce the more valuable painting. Unfortunately, this techno-myopia has blurred the real understanding to success. Namely, we should be, as Mr. Carter pointed out, in the business to provide the "means to fulfill the fundamental human need to communicate."

Mr. Carter seemed to be one of the few executive who did get it. He knows customers don't care about technology. What they want are more meaningful tools that enable self-expression. Tools that can also inform and entertain. Therefore applications and devices need to be designed not only for usability but marketed in an understandable way. When was the last time your grandmother talked to you about "surfing the wireless web" or WAP phones?

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