A small but enthusiastic crowd of wireless technology players turned out at the UNC Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School Thursday night to learn what the future may hold for the wireless technology industry.
The event was the third in a series of talks put on by the RTP Wireless Initiative, a joint project between the Council for Entrepreneurial Development and the Kenan-Flagler Business School that intends to encourage the growth of the wireless industry in North Carolina.
Leading the discussions were Bill Weiss, chairman and chief executive officer of the Cary-based Promar Group, which might best be described as a consulting and analyst firm, and David Poticny, mobility sector vice president for Lucent Technologies. As it turns out, both agreed that the many industry experts are missing the big picture when thinking about wireless technologies.
“It’s not about wireless technologies,” Weiss said. “It’s about the mobile Internet. If you think about it as a superset of wireless then you begin to stand in the future and see what users are going to want to do. This’ll open up your thinking as to what might be different and possible, and it will give you ideas for new business models.”
While much of the crowd consistently kept one eye on the clock and an ear on the discussion — later it was acknowledged by an official from the CED that many people in the room were thinking about the Carolina Hurricanes Stanley Cup game that was about to begin — Weiss pointed out five other key factors to remember:
First, Weiss said it is crucial to remember that the future is not coming as fast as people think. For instance, 3G technologies were first discussed in 1997, he said, and it will still be some time before those products and services are rolled on en masse in the U.S.
Second, brands still count. Weiss provided an example of a wireless operator who partnered with McDonald’s in Europe to bring mobile Internet users coupons via SMS messaging. It resulted in a 30 to 35 percent close rate on those coupons and a $30 million up tick in revenue for the hamburger giant, Weiss said.
Third, it is important to approach the wireless industry thinking about mobile interfaces rather than mobile devices.
Fourth, “connective tissue”, or those services that allow mobile Internet users to connect to their corporate local area network (LAN), is the most promising niche market in the industry.
And last, machine to machine communications will drive most of the industry’s growth rather than people to machines connections.
“My suggestions for how to make the most money is to start with a user and ask yourself what they are going to want to be able to do with their mobile Internet connection,” Weiss said. “If you step up and say, ‘I’m going to think about it on these terms,’ then it becomes something simple and the technology is not as important. It’s nothing more than an enabler.”
Poticny agrees with Weiss’ perspective, except Poticny said he thinks the future of the mobile Internet around the world is now rather than a few years up the road. He pointed to statistics showing that as of March the number of global wireless subscribers surpassed traditional telephone users for the first time in history, and as of February the number of U.S. landlines put into use was less than the previous year’s total.
“There are reasons that the mobile Internet hasn’t taken off yet,” Poticny said. “Data speeds are still low, there are concerns about security, and there is an absence of a standardized technology that makes everything work together, among others. But I believe the future of all communications will be done wirelessly.”
An audience member asked Weiss and Poticny what they see emerging as the killer application that would turn the industry on its ear. Both men agreed that the application already is being used by millions of people every day but not anywhere near its potential
“Access to the corporate intranet,” Poticny said. “So many people are unsatisfied with their Internet and intranet connections when they are traveling or out of the office.
“How many people have ever been on their hands and knees in a hotel room trying to connect your laptop computer to the Internet,” Poticny asked. “The mobile Internet is going to take off because we hate crawling around on strange floors.”
Both also suggested that high-tech leaders in the RTP area should come together and establish a research center where the region’s technologies can be on display and where companies can interact with users to see how their products and services fare in real-world use.
RTP Wireless Initiative Web site:www.rtpwi.org