RealTime IT News

Wireless Carriers Go Digital House Hunting

NEW ORLEANS -- Wireless carriers are used to competing with each other. The winning strategy is simple (although executing it isn't): offer better coverage, customer service, rate plans and features than the other guy.

But as they look toward the networked home as an area of growth, mobile moguls will clash with a formidable set of rivals, including software makers, portal specialists and broadband network operators.

The looming battle is for control of the home gateway, the hub connecting IP-based networked phones, computers, audio and video entertainment systems and appliances.

"Who's going to be the portal?" Scott Ford, Alltel's president and CEO, said at the CTIA 2005 Wireless show here today. "It's nothing I pretend to know the answer to, but it will be a fascinating set of options that consumers will have."

Len Lauer, president and COO of Sprint , agreed that it's a promising market and one that will require mobile carriers to be innovative.

"[The other competitors in the space] view us as telecom providers who don't know usability," said Lauer, who noted that any digital home system would be made up of partners with expertise in several areas.

That said, he believes wireless carriers can be the key enabler in the convergence of communications technologies. Other issues, such as digital rights management also need to be hammered out for the concept to reach its full potential.

The convergence of wireless technology, content and consumer devices and settings is a key theme of this year's CTIA.

One of the most popular exhibits is a 7,000-square-foot house that features wireless connectivity for devices in nearly every room of the house, including the garage.

Another exhibit highlights the inclusion of a Motorola Bluetooth What's more, a host of handset and device makers, as well as the network equipment vendors who supplied them, showcased products and services to address the blurring line between consumers and business users.

Ford, Lauer and other wireless executives at CTIA today also discussed other trends facing the industry. They urged audience members to contact policy makers to reduce regulations and taxes on carriers, saying they hamper investments in research and development.

Unsurprisingly, they said the wave of consolidation is good for the industry and customers. Robert Dotson, president and CEO of T-Mobile USA, said the roll-up will allow for faster rollouts of third-generation networks and applications.

He also said network coverage will improve as a result of combinations like the $41 billion Cingular-AT&T Wireless deal.

Stan Sigman, president and CEO of Cingular, the country's largest mobile carrier with more than 50 million users, said policy makers seemed knowledgeable about the advantages of the current merger wave.

"They were very fair in their review process and it moved quickly," Sigman said. He expects the pending merger of Sprint and Nextel to also pass regulatory muster.