May 16, 2001

Wireless Agenda 2001: What was left unspoken

Author: JT Smith

- by Jack Bryar -
Open Source Business -

One of the most difficult things to teach
journalists to look for is the thing that didn't happen. Any
writer can sit in a conference or a meeting a faithfully record all the
discussion. Quotes are easy to come by. It's easy to describe. Such a story can
write itself. But what did happen at an event may not be nearly as important
as what didn't happen. Things that were said at a meeting or conference
may be dwarfed in importance compared to what was left unspoken.This week features a story full of who hasn't been at a conference
and what wasn't being said there.

The venue is Wireless
Agenda 2001
this week in Dallas, Texas. This is the
big policy and planning conference of all the movers and shakers of the Cellular
Telecommunications and Internet Association
(CTIA). The CTIA is the
business face of wireless. Virtually every corporate entity involved
with cellular telecom, wireless Internet and PDA development
is connected to the CTIA, whether it is a maker of handheld phone
equipment, a designer of communication satellites or a designer of PDA software.

Like any other trade group, the CTIA spends a lot of time lobbying
and occasionally defending the indefensible. The group fights to persuade
regulators to understand why we need less radio spectrum for TV and radio and more spectrum for
wireless devices. Its people testify before the Senate panel trying to
explain away all those statistics about car crashes and cell phone use. They
defend their membership.

However, the CTIA is more than a lobby. It also tries to alert
its members about important trends and policies. More than most trade
groups, it attempts to be a repository of market research and technical
information. Its annual conference, called Wireless Agenda, is the
place where that kind of information gets presented.
It's where market leaders in the wireless arena will gather the
information they need to make decisions about what technologies,
partners and markets to bet their companies on. White papers presented there
about business and technical issues will actually get read.

For months, the CTIA had been looking for papers on operating platforms and system architecture,
on XML, on platform interoperability, application development, devices
and business models -- all issues that ought to be dear to the hearts of
Open Source developers. Because the focus of this years conference was
alliances, and because many of the attendees were looking for developers to partner
with, Linux and open platform integrators might have sought out some exposure
here. But Wireless Agenda is more of a talking shop than a show. There
were relatively
few exhibitors
. So it appears that most Open Source evangelists
didn't understand the significance of the conference ... and passed on it.

At least one Open Source company made a presentation. Lutris
Technologies showed up
and attempted to spread the gospel of Open
Source and XML, but there weren't many others.

G.mate was missing, although its Yopy product represents the type of
integrated voice and data systems that most attendees wanted to hear
about.

PointBase may not be everyone's definition of an Open Source
company, but it is "open to Open Source partners." And, although the company is among the
most enthusiastic developers of J2ME, the Java platform for mobile devices, PointBase wasn't presenting. Too bad, because the company had a compelling
story to tell this audience.

DevelopOnline is less
ambiguous in its commitment to Open Source. Its business model is to be a remote
development platform for PDA and wireless equipment and other
telecommunications applications. The firm must want to reach out to
would-be partners in the wireless space.

All of these companies, and many other Open Source developers could
have made compelling presentations to wireless corporate executives and opinion
leaders that assembled in Dallas had they been there.

Instead, presentations were dominated by companies like Broadbeam
-- a very good but very proprietary systems developer committed to Windows
and Palm. The few mentions of Linux to be found were on developer line
cards, which mentioned upcoming support for the operating system along with Palm, Windows CE, and any other operating system ever considered appropriate for wireless
or handheld devices. My favorite among these was CIBER, the makers of
".com in a box" one of the very few companies I am aware of who could characterize their product as "built using Cisco, Linux, Microsoft, Verio" and "bundled
with reliable products and services from ... Microsoft Corp."

Were Open Source developer right to pass on this conference? Was
this the wrong program/wrong audience, or was was this a missed opportunity? Was
this a blown chance to evangelize Open Source before a community looking
for common development platforms? Was this a lost exposure opportunity
for Open Source integrators looking to get before an audience composed
of people looking for development partners?

Admittedly, no company can go to every show or conference that
someone decides to put on. Small, financially strapped companies (and that
would include nearly all Linux companies) have to think carefully before
committing resources to programs such as Wireless Agenda, or any other conference,
for that matter.

Nevertheless, marketing an idea is different than showing up a trade
show and showing off a box or piece of code. The wireless community is
ready to hear some straight talk about how to get third-party
development into overdrive and how to get dozens of underdeveloped niche
technologies to work together. It's a natural applications area for the Open Source
development model.

But somebody has to show up to spread the word.

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