where "word of keystroke" begins

September 30, 1999 -- Wireless Internet

Transcript of the live chat session that took place Thursday, September 30, 1999. These sessions are normally scheduled for 12 noon-1 PM Eastern Time every Thursday. Please note that the US is now on Daylight Savings Time. So in international terms, we are on at GMT -4.

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Threads (reconstructed after the fact):

Today's participants


Richard Seltzer -- We'll be starting in about 20 minutes. Today's topic will be Wireless Internet, with guest Alan Reiter, from Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing. In the meantime, if you are curious you can see almost live images of me sitting in front of my computer at

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome Ron and gayatinmahan -- we'll be starting in about five minutes. Please introduce yourselves and let us know your interests.

Richard Seltzer -- It's time to get started. Welcome Alan. Please introduce yourself.

Alan Reiter -- Hi, it's Alan Reiter of Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing ready for the session.

Richard Seltzer -- I'm seeing two huge waves of change coming on the Internet. One is high-speed access -- which we were talking about in our last two sessions. The other is wireless (which interestingly, will eventually also provide high-speed access). We're going to be facing a while new range of issues, opportunities and risks. And just when you might have thought that the Web and traditional business were working out some kind of peaceful co-existence, radical change hits again.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Diane and others. Please introduce yourselves and let us know your interests. "Wireless Internet" is a huge subject. Help us focus on the issues that matter most to you.

Diane Newcum -- Hi, we are Bill and Diane Newcum of Advanced Software Technology, Inc.

Anthony Alvarez -- Hi Richard!! How are U? Ur webcam is working fine now.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Anthony. Thanks again for setting up my Web cam. (I can be seen "almost live" now at -- you might want to open a second browser window to see my smiling face:-)

Anthony Alvarez -- yes i always open a 2nd window to see your live non verbal facial expressions as we chat!

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome Richard Rahn (author of the End of Money). Seeing just your name there, I suspect that you got cut off by the automatic refresh feature. This software works best if you choose zero for the refresh rate and click on new messages to see the new stuff.

Richard -- Hi, This is Richard Rahn. Thanks for the suggestion, it seems to be working better now. 

Overview of wireless today

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- what do you see as the most important aspect of wireless today? and what do you expect it to be a few years from now? maybe if you could start with examples of business models that involve the use of wireless Internet-connected gadgets today...

Alan Reiter -- Wireless Internet comprises paging, digital cellular and PCS. It's a global business. Alpha pagers have e-mail addresses, many cellular and PCS phones can accept e-mail. Lots of tests with wireless shopping overseas.

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- while I don't have a pager or a cell phone yet, I certainly have seen the ads. Sounds like the Internet access part aims at niches -- like delivering news from a few select sources (like CNN). I believe this could head in the direction of early transistor radios -- there was a brief window when radio stations or even advertisers would give away free transistor radios that could only receive one station -- theirs.

Alan Reiter -- Richard, Wireless e-mail is still a niche. But it can be HUGE. The problem is it isn't promoted much by the carriers. They are dinosaurs.

Alan Reiter -- In Europe, there are BILLIONS of SMS -- short message service -- messages being sent -- and this is with the rotten ergonomics of GSM phones. No doubt - wireless e-mail is a killer app.

Anthony Alvarez -- Why do U think GSM is rotten? Apparently that is a major cell phone protocol in the world.

Alan Reiter -- Anthony, I don't think GSM is rotten. I think the use of a phone keypad -- where you have to push a button three times to enter one letter - is rotten.

Anthony Alvarez -- I have a web page where people can send me messages to my alpha pager at In fact, every Thurs, my Yahoo calender sends a reminder beep to join this very chat session.

Alan Reiter -- Anthony, the future of wireless is trying it to desktop applications -- such as your calendar -- and providing you with alerts and other information automatically. 

Wireless webcams?

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- thinking webcams -- are there any of those available yet that work wirelessly? Perhaps that link to your PC, so you can walk around the house, the images go to your PC and from there get automatically uploaded to the Internet? If there aren't yet, I'd certainly expect them soon, and expect the range to keep increasing.

Alan Reiter -- Look for Webcams to be more practical when Third Generation wireless systems come in. April 2001 in Japan, sometime in 2001 in Europe and in the frequencies allocated. 

Business implications of wireless technology

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- Let's look at the business implications of these technology changes. Yes, it would be natural to see wireless stock trading (for example). But is that likely to come in the form of general purpose devices (like PalmPilots) or one function gadgets (something that e-Trade gives you because you're a good customer) or by way of intermediary services?

Alan Reiter -- Look for wireless chatting soon -- another heads-up from the wireless Internet arena. Also, look for wireless banking, wireless stock trading (already in the US) and wireless shopping.

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- do you know anyone who has plans for a wireless chat business? or for wireless-enabled instant messaging? This is like the Internet starting all over again -- almost anything you can imagine doing with the new technology is likely to be tried by one business or another. And what will be the factors that determine who wins?

Alan Reiter -- Richard, Tegic Communications has a wireless chat software product. I know of a couple of firms (I'm working with one of them) working on wireless chatting, buddy lists, etc. Work is being done in the US and abroad. The carriers overseas know that the youth market is a big market. Kids don't need a $500,000 Andersen Consulting study to understand the value of wireless data!

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- Yes, wireless chat could be a huge winner very quickly -- the kind of flirtatious banter that fills open chat rooms today just uses text -- very low bandwidth -- and the kids doing it all the time, might well prefer to be able to on the beach, while hanging out on a street corner, in the school yard at recess, etc. It would also be great for field service (you get an answer from the expert back at the office, and the customer never knows that you weren't the expert yourself.)

Alan Reiter -- In Finland -- which has a cellular penetration of 60 percent -- and climbing -- kids use SMS for chatting all the time. In other European countries kids also are using SMS a great deal. Calling Party Pays and pre-paid phone plans are stimulating a huge amount of usage.

John Pioccone -- Alan, how about in the portable laptop area?

Alan Reiter -- I believe the real growth will come from general purpose devices, that can accommodate a variety of services. Indeed, devices with an OS -- Windows CE, Symbian (EPOCS 32) and Palm OS -- are the future. You will be able to use your handheld, pager, etc. for different applications. Special-purpose wireless devices will be a very niche market. The future is devices for millions of people.

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- while long-term, I'm sure general purpose will win; I'd be surprised if in the short term (for a huge window of a couple years) there weren't a plethora of single-service gadgets hardwired to connect to a single source of information or transactions and social activity and given away free to customers (hoping to "lock" them in).

Alan Reiter -- Richard, I could be wrong, but I don't see many single-purpose gadgets. I see BRANDED gadgets (a Merrill Lynch pager or a Yahoo phones), but they won't be just for, as examples, trading with Merrill or accessing Yahoo data. Au contraire, these devices will have all the regular features.

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- eventually I could see branded general purpose devices. But human nature being human nature, I believe that the first shot will be to try to own the customer by giving something away that provides access to just one service or a limited number of services (each of which pay you to be added to the list). We see this kind of thinking in video games. You sell the game box for very little (compared to its cost) and try to make your money selling the razor blades/games. And you may your cheap game box incompatible with your competitors'. Add wireless and Internet to a Dreamcast box, and suddenly Sega becomes a huge Internet player -- deriving much of its clout from how it limits the access it provides. I don't say that's good or that in the long run it wins. But in the short run, that's what I expect to see.

Alan Reiter -- Richard, look at the Palm VII. It's wireless-enabled, but you can still have all the Palm features. Look at the Qualcomm PDQ phone -- a Palm OS and a phone. Look at stock trading via BellSouth -- a pager for trading and messaging. In short, I am skeptical (I guess we agree to disagree!) about single-purpose devices as being a big market....unless prices decrease dramatically. If alpha pagers wholesale for $5 each, then perhaps they could be given away as single-purpose devices. Phones still cost a few hundred dollars to manufacture.

anthony alvarez -- By they way, where can I get alpha pagers that wholesale for $5?

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- I've heard that E-trade and its competitors spend as much as $250 to $300 to acquire the average customer. Give-aways -- even of sophisticated devices -- become very attractive in that space, especially if you have some assurance that what you gave away can't be used to do business with your competitor.

Anthony Alvarez -- In their Instant mssg war w/ AOL, Microsoft has a plan to roll out wireless instant messenger service!!!

Alan Reiter -- Anthony, you are correct. In fact, Microsoft has estabish MSN Mobile to provide wireless services. I know a fair amount about Microsoft's plans for wireless. However, everything MS has done so far -- or said it was going to do -- hasn't really sparked the growth of wireless. Still, the future will indeed be wireless-enabled Web sites. It's already happening.

Anthony Alvarez -- There already are many high quality chat clients for the handheld devices like: ICQ, yahoo messenger, etc I am sure MSN will produce a chat client for Win CE devices in the future also.

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- It feels like we're in that interim period, where what is technologically feasible isn't always doable yet in a business sense -- because of cost or incompatibility. So aiming for where this is going to be (in the not very distant future) will be somewhat of a challenge. There's no way to gage the speed at which incompatibilities will be dealt with and prices will plummet.

Alan Reiter -- Richard, 2000 will be the year of wireless data innovations in Europe. Already, there are more than 30 data services in the Czech Republic. There's wireless banking in Slovakia and Singapore. Stock trading in Hong Kong. There will be WAP phones (Wireless Access Protocol) being promoted with fancy (useful!) features. Stay tuned. 2000 will be very exciting in Europe and Asia. Prices will not be unreasonable. Most carriers will not charge much except regular messaging charges for such things are banking. 

Wireless network recommendations

John Pioccone -- Alan, which wireless network systems do you recommend?

Alan Reiter -- Recommendations: For two-way paging, check out BellSouth Wireless Data and Skytel and PageNet. BellSouth offers unlimited messaging for about $60 a month (don't quote me on that figure!). It starts at $25 a month for about 25,000 characters. BellSouth is nationwide, as is Skytel and PageNet. It's really very good for e-mail.

Alan Reiter -- Recommendations 2: As for phones, that's a problem. There's Cellular Digital Packet Data in about 55 percent or so of the U.S., and you need a $500 PC Card modem or modem for a Palm. As for digital cellular, AT&T, for example, has one-way SMS (160 characters). I use AT&T and have unlimited messaging as part of my plan, but because of the one-way limitation and the character limitation, it's more of an alerting service. 


Alan Reiter -- One interesting development: Bluetooth. It's a standard, using radio, not infrared, for connecting devices. Look for Bluetooth devices at the end of this year or beginning of next year. It's a $20 chip from Intel that will be available for desktop devices (printers, PCs), cellular phones, etc. Think about the possibilities of having, for example, ONE SCREEN in your pocket that is connected wirelessly to you palmtop and phone and pager -- which are now much smaller because they all use one screen.

Richard Seltzer -- Bluetooth sounds interesting. Is there a URL to see more? Maybe an article at your site?

Alan Reiter -- I believe you can find out more from I know a fair amount about it, but I don't think I have any articles on my site. 

Wireless games

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- have you seen any signs yet of wireless games that connect to the Internet? There's an enormous community of folks who play interactive games over the Internet today (games that they can play alone on their PC off a CD ROM and that they can play interactively with remote opponents by way of a related Web site). It would seem natural for their to be gadgets about the size of a Gameboy that connect to the Internet -- maybe the wireless just talks to their PC, which might be a mile away and the PC connects to the Internet just for uploading and downloading info when necessary.

Alan Reiter -- Wireless games are being explored in Japan, the UK and the US. I am actually working in my capacity as a consultant to create a wireless game site -- with lots of other capabilities. The cost of wireles and ergonomics of devices are a problem. But you will see wireless games. 

Teledesic and other satellite-based ventures

Ron -- Is anyone aware of the teledesic company?

Ron Ron-- I guess no one has heard of teledesic. If interested, check out the site: I would like your opinions of the project, e.g., what it might mean to individual Internet subscriber.

Richard Seltzer -- Ron -- what is teledesic? I'll check the site later, but I'm too busy typing now :-) What's the cliff-notes version...

Ron -- Teledesic is a company that has plans to launch 24 satellites for wireless communications.

Alan Reiter -- Yes, I am familiar with Teledesic. It's an Internet in the sky. Satellite is a problem because of delays in signals, expense of the system and the ultimate cost to the end user. Look at Iridium's problems, for example. I believe there will be at least one successful satellite data system, but it's a real challenge.

John Pioccone -- what do you think the time frame is in having this available?

Ron -- Teledesic seems to have a very agressive agenda - within a year of so I think.

Richard Seltzer -- Alan and Ron -- What's happening with Bill Gates' Internet in the sky project? Is that the same as Teledesic or is it a competitor? And when are they due to be available to the general public -- 1 year? 3? 5? And will that technology suffice for high-speed (1 Mbit+) wireless to anywhere? Or would that kind of speed require another generation of development?

Alan Reiter -- I'm not an expert in satellites for wireless data. However, you won't see much consumer use for a couple of years. Globalstar is worth watching. They hope to offer less expensive devices and airtime. As for speeds, they should be good enough for Web access. But 1M bps is fairly fast and expensive, so I suspect you won't see those speeds for a while. 

Coping with multiple Internet-connected gadgets

Richard Seltzer -- When I think of wireless I think of the challenges as well as the utility and opportunities. One of those challenges will be how to securely access all the aspects of my online identity and online resources from dozens of different gadgets and from wherever I happen to be. I saw on piece of the answer today in some email sent over the isig distribution list -- offering to securely store you documents on the web, so you could access your files from any gadget anywhere, rather than having them locked away on a hard drive.

Alan Reiter -- Stay tuned for a variety of companies offering messaging security and synchronization. Motorola bought Starfish for its synchronization capabilities.

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- please explain -- what is "messaging synchronization"? What's the problem its meant to solve? And how does it solve it?

Alan Reiter -- The Web companies are concentrating first on desktop to desktop and desktop to portable computer synchronization. But there will be MANY ways to synch wireless devices. Motorola, for example, is beginning to offer sychronization for its two-way pagers.

Richard Seltzer -- What is the technical problem that synchronization solves?

Alan Reiter -- Message synchronization. I should have used another term. It's the ability to easily transfer information among different devices -- desktop, palmtop, pager, phone, etc. -- from any device. Starfish and Puma Technology are among the companies working on this. We also need better filtering and forwarding of messages. For example, ISPs should offer filtering and forwarding so different types of messages are sent to different devices. 

Wireless and technology leap frog

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- might wireless be the way the rest of the world leap frogs the US in the Internet space? already cell phones are more widely used in other countries (due in part to more sensible and understanding pricing schemes and in part to the fact that the installed wired infrastructure is so bad).

Alan Reiter -- Richard, you are correct about wireless being used as a leapfrog technology. In Japan, because of the big keyboard required for Kanji, lots of people PREFER the simplicity of of a wireless phone for messaging. In a few countries, there are now more wireless phones than wireline phones. 

Business impact of pricing schemes

Richard Seltzer -- In the past, Internet usage in many parts of Europe has been slowed by the pricing schemes -- just to use a telephone you have to pay by the minute, and per-minute rates for Internet get added to that. Is that changing? Has that already changed? Does wireless in any way bypass that pricing structure?

Alan Reiter -- The U.S. has one major advantage -- unlimited local calls for a flat rate. Internet usage HAS been slowed overseas because of per-minute phone charges. However, one trend in Europe is free Internet service providers. And, I believe there probably will be discounted phone rates for Internet usage, too. In many parts of the world, it's often cheaper to use a cellular phone than to use a hotel phone. I suspect data will follow a decreasing pricing structure as well. 

The user's perpective -- wireless is addictive

Bob Fleischer -- One thing I've noticed after having a cellular phone for a year and a half -- wireless is VERY addictive! I've noticed the same thing with the users of the within-building wireless networking at Compaq -- people use their notebooks ALL the time.

Alan Reiter -- Bob, it's really pathetic how SUBSCRIBERS understand the value of wireless and the value of messaging, but the U.S. carriers are morons about this. The carriers are spending huge amounts of money trying to "understand" wireless data. Instead, they should be promoting SMS services, offering two-way capabilities, offering good pricing deals, etc. They just don't get it. The Europeans and Asians do understand.

anthony alvarez -- Yes i working in Tokyo as a software engineer for 3 years. It seems that wireless phone is as important to the Japanese as a car is for an American. 

Alternatives to keyboards for input

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- one of the limitations of wireless email is the lack of a keyboard. Pagers and cell phones seem great for receive email but not for sending it. Do we need a PalmPilot or some such gadget? Or how long will it be before voice recognition is good enough -- so I could speak my reply into the cell phone and have it delivered as an email (with the recipient having the choice of seeing it as text or hearing it as voicemail, depending on what kind of gadget is available to them at the time.)

Alan Reiter -- Voice recognition is still far way from perfection. There is a "predictive" keypad from a company called Tegic that guesses the correct word from the letters you've entered. Also, many manufacturers are working on larger phones for better text input. But it's still a problem.

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- Amen about the phone keypad.

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- is anybody working seriously on marrying voice recognition and speech synthesis with wireless gadgets -- to get away from the limitations of keyboards and screens -- to make these things extremely compact?

Alan Reiter -- Richard, there are many efforts underway in speech synthesis and speech recognition on many fronts. Hardware vendors -- Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, among others -- are looking at it. There is some limited speech recognition, for dialing, as an example. However, even speaker-dependent voice recognition is very tough to master. General Magic's Portico service -- designed for mobile phones -- is far from perfect in recognizing spoken commands. Still, voice command systems will continue to improve.

anthony alvarez -- I use a palm pilot and an very impressed with its "graffiti" input method. Prior, I was using an Apple newton and its hand recognition was as simplisitic as "graffiti". I would suggest that future wireless chat devices use "graffiti".

anthony alvarez -- Sorry, what i meant was apple input method wasnt goof-proof and intuitive.

Alan Reiter -- Anthony, wireless companies have *certainly* looked a Graffiti as an entry mechanism. But, the companies have decided that it's too cumbersome to require a stylus for text entry. 


Richard Seltzer -- All -- unfortunately, time is running out. I want to continue this discussion next Thursday -- hopefully diving a little deeper into the possible business models related to wireless. Alan, will you be able to join us then?

Alan Reiter -- Yes, I should be able to join you next week, too.

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- terrific. "See" you again next week. Thanks very much for joining us today.

Alan Reiter -- A pleasure to participate. See you next Thursday.

anthony alvarez -- Great chat, see U next week!

Richard Seltzer -- All, as usual I'll post an edited transcript of today's session. Please check before you log off, post here your email and URL addresses so we can stay in touch. And please send me email with the comments and questions that you didn't have time to type here, so I can attach them as followup notes to the transcript.

Richard Seltzer -- Thanks to all. Please post your ID info here. See you next week. (and of course, you can "see" me right now by webcam at -- thanks again to Anthony Alvarez for setting that up.)

Richard -- Richard Rahn: e-mail:; URL:

Alan Reiter -- Alan Reiter: e-mail -; URL -

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