CANNES, France — It’s hard to think of anything more dangerous – or ludicrous, really – in an already overindulged industry than the combination of luxury yachts and foie gras, but just such an ominous combination was on display here at the 3GSM World Congress this week.
First sign of weirdness: Modest startups setting up in the Cannes harbor with rented yachts worth more than their occupants.
Indeed, a luxury yacht isn’t the perfect vehicle to ride into what is likely to be a bloody and high-stakes battle between the Wireless Wannabes and the Unstrung Illuminati. A tank would be more suitable. As the technology landgrab shifts so obviously and eagerly to Le Monde Mobile, expectations have never been higher. This one isn’t about booming new success – it’s about survival. "Wireless will save us!" sings the chorus.
There’s nothing more disruptive than a paradigm shift that’s been preordained. Pick your wireless cliché du jour: 1) “It’s the next bandwidth-driving application!” 2) “It’s all about always-on connectivity!” 3) "If wireless data doesn't take off, mobile operators will be up a creek sans paddle!"
Indeed, as just about every other high-tech market bombs faster than the first Cannes screening of Ishtar, companies are revving up their marketing engines with a mobile angle in the hopes that their plummeting stock prices will be rescued by GPRS-enabled Palms.
Even yours truly, Light Reading Inc., has taken the wireless plunge. Just take a look at our new site: Unstrung.
Or take Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), which in Cannes was quietly gearing up to invade the 802.11 chipset turf to take on Agere Systems (NYSE: AGR) and Intersil Corp. And Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), already a worldwide wireless leader, has just made a serious grab for dominance by announcing an ambitious all-IP architecture, hoping to spur industry “coopetition.” There’s also Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), which has realized that GSM has become a check-list item, not an optional feature (see Juniper Unveils 'Wireless Router').
A wireless company as sophisticated as Nokia clearly understands it’s not simply about sticking your toe into the wireless pond, but about massaging new architectures into the existing networks. TDM, IP, GRPS, UMTS, whatever. We’ll take ‘em – they’ve all gotta work together.
Everybody want’s into the hip new party – they’re just not sure what to wear. 3G? 802.11? Streaming Video? Interactive gaming? 4G networks? It’s all coming! The nifty new applications are meaningless by themselves if you can’t find a way to deploy and charge for them.
As Dan Jones, the new senior editor of our sister site Unstrung puts it, “Maybe they should start with something simple, like getting the phones to work.”
Yes, those connections are important. And interoperability and peering arrangements are the key. All of these concerns point to the need for technologists and aspiring startups to treat this next move carefully. It’s not the next bubble – it’s a piece of the engineering puzzle that must be carefully slotted into existing IP, voice, and optical networks. Regardless of whether you’re building the next UMTS-enabled base station or a handheld device, it must interoperate in an economical fashion.
So shelve the foie gras and grab a hammer. There’s work to do.
— R. Scott Raynovich, US Editor, Light Reading