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.

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