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October 7, 1999 -- Wireless Internet

Transcript of the live chat session that took place Thursday, October 7, 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 -- All -- We'll be starting soon. Today's topic is business opportunities opened by wireless Internet. As you connect, please introduce yourself and let us know your interests.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, ef and BBJ. Please introduce yourselves.

BBJ -- with your permission I, a dummie , would like to look over your shoulders. BBJ

Richard Seltzer -- BBJ -- You are welcome. If you have questions, please don't be shy about asking.

Alan Reiter -- Hi Richard, I'm online. Had some ADSL problems, but everything's okay now, I hope.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Alan. Very glad you could join us again. It seems that wireless is a very hot topic now -- AOL offering some kind of wireless connection, and the MCI bid for Sprint.

Alan Reiter -- Yes, after analyzing wireless since 1978, and getting involved in wireles data in the early 1980s, wireless data is finally getting some serious attention.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, g_gregoire - unfortunately you connected just as we finished. Please feel free to email me your questions or comments and I'll add them to the transcript.

Flavors of wireless

Richard Seltzer -- It feels like there are many different aspects to wireless: a modem you can plug into your laptop, the service that you connect to with that modem, miscellaneous gadgets old (cell phone and pager) and new (?), and infrastructure that has to be in place for these things to be useful.

Alan Reiter -- Wireless developments are tough to keep track off --- and NOTHING is close to perfect. Digital cellular/PCS will begin dominating wireless Internet in Europe, Asia and the US. So far, though, the ergonomics, coverage and pricing all leave things to be desired.

Alan Reiter -- Wireless Internet is going to be very big business, though. There will be MANY companies offering a variety of applications. This is sparked in part by the Wireless Application Protocol.

Alan Reiter -- Richard, there are wireless LANs, with a range of anywhere of 30 feet or so to a few hundred feet. For wide area wireless, if you are within range of a Metricom or CDPD (cellular) antenna you can get service. With CDPD, many of the metro areas are covered. With a PCS data service like Sprint, you would get coverage wherever Sprint has voice coverage.

Alan Reiter -- "Fixed wireless" is when the radio modem doesn't move. The coverage area could be significant, such as a metro area. Or, when the radio modem is in a laptop computer within a specific area, such as a campus. "Wireless wireless data" can be nationwide and truly mobile, such as using CDPD and SMS services.

Wireless modems (wireless wireless)

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- the latest issue of Time Magazine had a column about wireless. The reporter was enthusiastic, but also disappointed. He wanted to connect while riding the train to work, but the wireless modem he had bought kept losing the connection when the train moved.

Alan Reiter -- Even ADSL isn't perfect. The wireless industry is going to have to learn how to manage customer expectations and provide the right level of training to sales people so that customers aren't disappointed.

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- If you were going to buy a wireless modem today, what would you buy? And what would it get you? Is the service tied to the modem? And what's the range of costs? And what can you and can't you do with it?

Alan Reiter -- If I were in San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., I would look at Metricom -- unlimited Web browsing for a flat fee. CDPD is available in 55 percent of the country, at a true speed of about 10K bps. Okay for e-mail and some browsing. For e-mail, I'd get BellSouth Wireless Data or Skytel (more expensive, and no flat rate).

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- are the wireless Internet services all local and all in major cities? If I travel from Boston to San Francisco, will my wireless modem and wireless service be useless while I'm out there?

Richard Seltzer -- Are the wireless service operators -- the ones that deal with consumers -- working together? Do they have reciprocal agreements so I could still connect while travelling to different cities? Or is that one of the business components that needs to come together before this really takes off.

Alan Reiter -- The CDPD operators have reciprocal agreements, but the pricing might be different. You can get unlimited usage via AT&T for a flat rate, but if you roam to another carrier's area, you might have to pay a per-packet charge.

Alan Reiter -- I think that for the PCS-based data services, those services work only on the carrier's system. If I am in AT&T's coverage area, for example, I can get 160-character SMS service. But if I am not in range of its PCS service and use another carrier, I don't think I can get SMS service. In Europe, all the carriers have GSM, so it's not much of a problem. 

How does this happen on regulated bandwidth?

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- for "wireless wireless" you must be using public airways. Do regulations get in the way? What about assignment of frequencies etc.? Or is this piggybacking on cellular? Is there no risk that lots of competing signals would interfere with one another -- either in a city or on the floor of a convention hall with hundreds of Internet exhibitors?

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- another side to my question -- is there some point at which the number of users or the volume of usage exceeds the natural capacity of the spectrum? a point at which the signals begin interfering with one another, polluting the general spectrum...

Alan Reiter -- "Wireless wireless" is typically based on regulated bandwidth. Cellular carriers, trunked radio carriers (like Nextel), paging companies -- are allocated specific bandwidth. They can typically do what they want -- devote all channels to voice, devote some channels to data, mix and match, etc. There are also unlicensed bands -- such as 902 MHz - 928 MHz (and two in the GHz band) -- where you don't have to pay for a license, but you have to ensure that your operation doesn't interfere with anyone elses.

Alan Reiter -- Channels can accommodate a certain number of users. Once you exceed the optimal number, you get "blocking" - busy signals so that you can't make a call. AT&T Wireless has been taken to task for doing such a good job promoting its nationwide One Rate plan that it's tough to get a signal in some areas, such as New York. 

Wireless over a LAN (fixed wireless) -- Boston College example

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- When I worked at Digital, many of us had little wireless gadgets attached to our laptops, so we could connect for email and Web from most rooms in most buildings inside the company. Soon everyone was carrying their laptops to meetings and doing email etc. during the boring parts. But you had to be within a narrow range for the things to work. What is the range for today's wireless modems?

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- Yesterday, I was at Boston College, meeting with an old friend (Kathleen Warner) who is now in charge of IT there. She mentioned that BC plans to be the first wireless campus, within a few months. They will have servers strategically located throughout the campus, so wherever you are, you can connect. (I believe the range in that case is 80 yards). She also mentioned that the oldest building on campus was the first to be equipped for wireless -- it was so old that it would have been difficult if not impossible to wire it. They also get benefit in the dorms -- not having to add drops to rooms when moving from two students per room to three.

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- what is the difference in speed between a LAN style connection (like at BC) and connecting to a public service? Is this enormously different today? And what is the range for connection to a public service? (Certainly it must be a lot greater than 80 yards).

Alan Reiter -- Colleges, corporate campuses and old buildings are ripe for wireless. Wireless is useful when you don't want to drill through asbestos, for example. You can get good speeds -- 1M bps - 10M bps. "Fixed" wireless systems will be a good business, once it matures in a year or two. Kids take to wireless like ducks to water.

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- Just need to get the terminology straight. Is "fixed" wireless the same as connecting to a LAN like at BC? If so, what do you call the mobile variety? And how does it differ?

Alan Reiter -- As I mentioned, a wireless LAN can be 1M bps - 10 M bps if you don't move, or just move around a building. For "wireless wireless" :-), top speeds now are about 64K bps (I think that's available in Japan), but it's based on combining channels. So, if you combine wireless channels, how much should carriers charge and how much will people pay?

Alan Reiter -- There are half a dozen different fixed wireless technologies and many big name companies (such as Lucent and Nortel) are involved. I am getting increasing numbers of calls -- in the U.S. and overseas about fixed wireless. Indeed, countries with poor landline phone service are looking at fixed wireless for Internet connections.

Long-range vs. short-range fixed wireless

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- Once again, I'm trying to orient myself. Are there two kinds of fixed wireless? short range (LAN-based) and long range? If so, for long-range wireless, what kind of speeds are we talking about?

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- If I understand you right, wireless wireless basically piggybacks on what's already around. If you can get pager signals or cellular service, you can connect to the Internet, but the speed is slow. Fixed LAN-style wireless depends on your being very close to a server, like inside a room that is eqipped. But it seems that there is also a long-range fixed wireless which is coming and which would allow much faster speeds than today's wireless wireless. Where does satellite-based wireless service fit in this schema?

Alan Reiter -- Long-range vs. short. You can install, in your corporation or around your college, for example, a wireless LAN that works only within your campus. This is a private network. For the long-range fixed wireless networks, companies are constructing towers around a metro area -- just like cellular -- for fixed wireless data. These are public networks that many businesses can sign up for.

Alan Reiter -- Fixed wireless LANs depend upon being close to the wireless transceiver -- the radio modem, etc. -- that sends and transmits. The server can be located anywhere. Radio modems can send signals directly to a server that also have a transceiver. Or the radio modem in your laptop connects with a "relay" device on the wall, which is attached via a landline to the server. 

Current limitations

Richard Seltzer -- Can the same wireless modem that you use for wireless wireless be used for fixed (LAN) wireless? OR do you need a separate card? And how costly are these cards? And to different wireless wireless services require different cards (could be a nightmare there...)

Alan Reiter -- If you can get a wireless signal from a public network, you usually -- not always can also get data service. For example, with CDPD, cellular carriers install CDPD equipment in some -- not all -- of their towers. So you might be able to get voice coverage in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, but CDPD coverage in only some of those regions. If you have a two-way pager from Skytel, the signal from the pager to the tower is weak. So you might be able receive data -- from a big powerful outside tower to your pager -- but your pager might be too far away from a tower to transmit an acceptable signal. Wireless data is a tough business!

Wireless-based business opportunities

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- what's really interesting to me is what happens when large numbers of people can connect at reasonable speeds and with reasonable reliability from just about anywhere, and can still connect while travelling. Then numerous new business models might come into play. So I'm interested in getting a clearer sense of how far we are from that state today; and then get your considered view of what those new opportunities might be.

Alan Reiter -- Many opportunities will exist overseas -- Europe and parts of Asia. There is GSM compatibility. Now it's 9.6, but going to 14.4K and beyond. High speed circuit switched of 64K bps will be available this year and next in Europe and Asia. Then next year there will be packet data via PCS. That should make a great difference. In Japan, there will be Third Generation systems -- 384K bps and beyond -- around the middle of 2001. Europe should follow at the end of 2001. I doubt the U.S. will have anything like this for years to come.

Alan Reiter -- Even at today's speeds, there will be tremendous vibrancy in Europe and Asia, with WAP phones. In 2000, there will be many, many services that are WAP based.

Richard Seltzer -- From what I am hearing, it sounds like the business opportunities will come in waves. In the first wave, I'd expect wireless capability to be tied to real estate value (like office buildings with Ethernet and high-speed Internet connection -- this is the next step up for them). I'd also expect to see local information services and game playing services -- for which you have to be within range to connect -- for instance, campus wide services.

Alan Reiter -- The Handspring Visor has much better connection capabilities than the Palm line. Look for pagers and other wireless connections so you can use the Visor for wireless. The Palm VII, using BellSouth's network, is far from perfect, but you will see more services, such as wireless banking. In France, you can do wireless shopping. You will indeed see many wireless e-commerce services (that's one of my specialties, actually) around the world. Using your wireless device to purchase items will be very hot. 

Wireless and the real estate business

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- thinking of the BC example, it would seem like the next step would be for office buildings to get equipped for wireless and that to be a differentiator at first, and then a necessity. Then I'd expect convention centers and hotels to get equipped. Then airports and other places where travelers often have to wait. Then maybe malls. Does this scenario make sense to you?

Alan Reiter -- There are efforts underway to equip many hotels with high speed connections, but most of these are wired. Wireless is still esoteric. Yes, wireless makes sense, but there are price/performance issues, was well as the fact that it's still esoteric.

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- The state of wireless now, seems analogous to the state of wired Internet connection back in 1994-95. Then when we needed an Internet connection at a trade show, it was a major production -- costing $10,000 or more just for a couple days, if it was possible to do it at all. Now the hotels and convention centers are all Internet-ready. I suspect that in a few years at least the best ones -- the ones that cater to high-tech industry -- will be equipped for wireless.

Alan Reiter -- I think that since hotels really want/need to generate increased revenues, they will with increasing frequency install high-speed lines and charge $10-$20 per day. 

Wireless shopping

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- what's the benefit of wireless shopping? how does it differ from today's online shopping on the Web?

Alan Reiter -- Wireless shopping. You are on the way to the airport rushing to catch a plane, and you forgot it will be your anniversary the next day. Send flowers! You are in San Francisco, and you get a message that Pavarotti tickets are available for you if you respond within five minutes, or else they will be sold to someone else. You are involved in online auctions, and you want to keep up with the bids. Mark my words, there are time-sensitive shopping advantages. And, then look for merchants to offer wireless-only deals; Geoworks already offers this service.

Alan Reiter -- One major point about wireless shopping: If it isn't easier, faster, cheaper, etc., it won't succeed. People will simply use a landline phone or a wireless phone for VOICE communications, rather than data. But I believe you will see a tremendous number of wireless shopping trials, not to mention wireless banking, wireless stock trading, etc.

Bob Fleischer -- I would think that one problem with wireless web shopping (as opposed to wireless voice, i.e., phone, shopping) is the relatively poor ergonomics of a device you otherwise want to be as small and light as possible.

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- do the wireless businesses (like wireless shopping) that you foresee require anything special for payments? Would micropayment schemes help here? 

Wireless wishlist

Alan Reiter -- I want a GPS transceiver on my cat, who wanders around outdoors! Payments for wireless e-commerce can be debit cards, credit cards and special e-purses or micropayments. There is no one right formula now. In Europe, where there is a greater use of smart cards -- especially in France and Germany -- the smart debit/credit cards provide a certainly level of security. One other tactic is for a user to establish a wireless credit account, so money is taken from that specific account.

Bob Fleischer -- One can imagine almost any kind of portable electronic device (walkman, boom box, camcorder, automobile) being "enhanced" through wireless data connectivity. Perhaps a digital camera than can instantly send the photo to the grandparents?

Richard Seltzer -- Bob -- Yes, good idea. We just went through the wave of many ordinary appliances coming with microprocessors embedded. The next wave would probably be wireless to enable those applicances and devices to communicate with one another.

Richard Seltzer -- I'd like to be able to put a wireless transmitter on a two-year-old (maybe a wireless webcam), to keep track of him...

Alan Reiter -- Bob, you can already connect a digital camera to some phones. Ericsson and Nokia have demonstrated it. It's do-able -- just a question of speed and pricing. With Third Generation systems, this will be much more practical. As for music sent and stored on your phone, that is also being trialed in Asia.

Bob Fleischer -- A boom box with which you can browse digital music archives -- and then download for playing. A car that keeps your mechanic informed on the results of its diagnostics. (Just having fun here.)

Richard Seltzer -- Bob -- yes, I'd like to see the wireless Webcam -- one that stores its images on the Web (automatically) rather than on diskette. I'd also like to see the boombox that doesn't require CDs. You pick the music that you want and the box plays it straight from the Internet. Maybe you've bought the right to play certain tunes and that info is stored at some service site; or you pay per play -- the wireless jukebox.

Richard Seltzer -- Simple business model -- a busy beach area; a vendor with a laptop with wireless connects to a dozen or more local merchants. People on the beach stop by and order and pay for things (drinks, kites, umbrellas). The stores get the stuff ready and a delivery boy picks all the stuff up and drops it off at the beach.

Richard Seltzer -- Bob -- I could also see creating services that you connect to with your dumb feature-poor wireless device and that store information about you (how much money you have to spend) and that you provide to it (the latest version of your hot proposal and the photos you just took).

Bob Fleischer -- One trend seems to put more and more capability in the (wireless) phone, but one can imagine a parallel trend to put "the phone" (or at least the cellular-like networking ability) into more and more things. 

Gadgets galore and Bluetooth

Richard Seltzer -- I'm imagining a world in which there are many many wireless devices that use the Internet in some way. In that world, I would really want a service on the Web that helped pull lit all together. And then the gadgets themselves could be relatively simple -- probably giveaways.

Alan Reiter -- There will be a huge number of devices for wireless Internet use. Phones that look like regular phones, phones with keypads, electronic organizers with wireless PC cards, electronic organizers with built-in wireless, etc. The ergonomics are still not right. And, Bluetooth -- a wireless cable -- where you can create an adhoc LAN, creates interesting possibilities. 


Richard Seltzer -- All the hour has disappeared. Thanks very much for joining us. Please come again next Thursday, when we'll talk about money -- micropayments, etc., and our guests will be Richard Rahn, author of The End of Money and Russ Jones with Millicent (a micropayment system).

Before you leave, please post your email and URL addresses so we can keep in touch. As usual, I'll post the transcript in a few days. Check

Alan Reiter -- Alan Reiter -,

Bob Fleischer -- Bob Fleischer,

Richard Seltzer -- Thanks to all. See you next week. 

Followup messages


From: Bob Fleischer <>

Date: Fri, 08 Oct 1999 16:20:33 -0400

A definition I just encountered:

"Bluetooth is the codename for a technology specification for small form factor, low-cost, short range radio links between mobile PCs, mobile phones and other portable devices. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group is an industry group consisting of leaders in the telecommunications and computing industries that are driving development of the technology and bringing it to market. Bluetooth will enable users to connect a wide range of computing and telecommunications devices easily and simply, without the need to buy, carry, or connect cables. It delivers opportunities for rapid ad hoc connections, and the possibility of automatic, unconscious, connections between devices. "

Bob Fleischer, Compaq Services

Oracle Puts E-Commerce On Any Mobile

From: Bob Fleischer <>

Date: Thu, 07 Oct 1999 13:03:02 -0400

"LONDON (Reuters) - Oracle Corp is set to launch a product to let consumers shop electronically from any existing mobile phone, a move which it believes could rapidly triple the number of Internet shoppers worldwide, the company said Thursday..."

Bob Fleischer, Compaq Services

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