Big names crowd floor at wireless show

Some say the increased presence of giants like IBM at the CTIA Wireless show marks a critical moment: Mobile devices are poised to steal the Net from the PC.

Ben Charny Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Ben Charny
covers Net telephony and the cellular industry.
Ben Charny
4 min read
LAS VEGAS--Crowding alongside the young start-ups at this year's CTIA Wireless show is what analysts say is the highest concentration yet of big names in the computing industry, such as IBM, Compaq Computer and Sun Microsystems.

The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association show used to be filled with young start-ups. But with the upstarts that drove the Internet economy starting to fizzle out, many companies have been looking to wireless for their fortunes. And the big computer makers and chipmakers are no exception.

Computer makers such as Hewlett Packard and chip creators such as Intel are here to push their wireless products and shoulder their way in to compete for the millions of wireless users that will, in 2003, surpass the number of wired Internet users, according to several forecasts.

"This represents a significant kind of point, where Intel, Microsoft, Sun and Oracle realize the significant shift of the industry from PC-centric to mobile," said Satoshi Nakajima, chief executive of UIEvolution.

Veterans of the 15-year-old CTIA show, the oldest wireless show in the world, say they've never before seen such a large collection of old-time chip and PC makers crowding the floors alongside months-old start-ups with names like Zoomee.

"This is the largest concentration of wired Internet and computer and chipmakers we've ever had," said Travis Larson, CTIA spokesman.

"We're now seeing mainstream equipment and tech guys coming to these trade shows, kicking the tires, checking it out," said Chip Wagner, senior vice president of telecommunications equipment- and service-provider MSI.

This is both good and bad for the smaller players. Some companies, like UIEvolution, are benefiting from the venture-capital funds set up by the likes of Qualcomm and Motorola, inking pacts to bring wireless gaming to both companies' handheld devices.

But at the same time, these smaller companies feel that the large companies and their bottomless pockets of riches will edge them out of business.

"Where do we get our business?" Nakajima said. "With all the big companies out there now, that leaves less for everyone."

Big names joining hands
The big names are also making some big deals. Jerry Yang, the founder of Yahoo, said the company announced a partnership with Verizon Wireless on Monday.

"The wireless Internet has a higher value proposition than the wired net," Yang said. "Done right, it's more valuable, because it's mobile."

IBM and Intel have joined hands. Intel said Tuesday it has selected IBM as the provider of software for Intel's wireless devices. The two companies will ultimately sell a chip packed with software that enables devices to work wirelessly.

"There are 400 million users who like what they have in the Internet, and they want to go mobile," said Intel CEO Craig Barrett.

Intel is also developing a system that lets people wirelessly link their desktop computers and laptops and share a Net connection.

IBM, as part of its push into location-based services--estimated to be a $20 billion industry soon--just signed a deal with mapmaker Webraska to add maps and other services to handheld devices.

Michael Dell, of Dell Computer, said his company has signed a pact with Wayport, whose system allows consumers to make wireless Net connections in hotel lobbies or airports. The company is also integrating antennas and radios, needed for wireless access, into Dell computers.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the software giant is working on a mobile server, so information can be accessed over a wireless link. Microsoft, a veteran at CTIA, also has products such as its Stinger Smartphone, the PocketPC and the Microsoft Mobile Explorer, a Web-enabled phone. Last year, Chairman Bill Gates was a keynote speaker.

Sun Microsystems is also a prominent player in the show. Sun is already working with Java developers to create its own wireless platform. But at the show, the company plans to announce it's expanding its wireless service called iPlanet, which it is developing along with browser maker Netscape.

Compaq is also here, hoping its new location-based wireless service will become a major player.

Oracle, which has a mobile division, will be announcing a new, WAP-enabled phone it hopes to sell in the United States.

Hewlett Packard has created nine different "bazaars," its name for incubators for wireless companies. HP will be announcing a new bazaar location next month, to add to the ones in the Silicon Valley, Helsinki, China and other locations around the globe.

Texas Instruments, which has created its own wireless software platform, is expected to announce a customer win during the show as well.

The insurgence of the bigger technology players into the wireless arena is accompanied by an even bigger insurgence of international companies. This is the biggest presence yet of companies from outside the United States. There are pavilions representing China, Taiwan, Israel, Korea, Finland and Britain, to name a few.

"Don't underestimate the power of the wireless Internet," Dell said.