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Optical/IP

Is Anybody Listening?

On the closing day of Mobile Business Expo in Chicago last week, I managed to talk the organizers into giving me a list of attendees. Being conscientious events people, they gave me the sanitized list -- i.e., with companies and titles only, no names or contact info.

The enterprise users represented included International Paper, Alaska Airlines, trucking giant J.B. Hunt, and J.C. Penney. Vendors and service providers included Cisco Systems Inc., Aruba Wireless Networks, Symbol Technologies Inc. (the event's primary sponsor), and AT&T Inc. Distinctly underrepresented were the major wireless carriers.

Cingular Wireless, according to the attendee list, had exactly one person (a "Senior Field Engineer") at the conference. T-Mobile USA sent two. Verizon Wireless had more, but most of them were from Verizon Business, which is actually a separate company. The lone exception was Sprint Nextel Corp., which sent 20 people.

The show floor was devoid of carrier booths. As far as the presentations themselves, not a single carrier was represented on any of the panels, or in the keynote speeches.

This was an event focusing on mobilizing the enterprise, which drew more than 1000 high-level IT professionals, system analysts, and executives, many of them potential customers. And three of the Big Four carriers essentially ignored it.

That goes a long way toward explaining why, in late 2006, the major wireless operators have generally failed to build up robust business-side products and services. More than one attendee at Mobile Business Expo told me that the big carriers "just don't get it." They don't understand the challenges facing IT professionals at enterprises large and small; they don't understand the technological issues facing companies dealing with large mobile workforces; they don't offer cost-effective service plans; and they obviously don't listen to their customers, because they're not on the scene where their customers gather to discuss the most pressing issues.

If any of the carriers want to know why their enterprise business is not growing, and why so many of their enterprise customers view their carrier relationships as basically antagonistic, try asking the Mobile Business Expo attendees for their opinions. And try listening.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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