Wireless 2000 Kicks Off

NEW ORLEANS (02/29/2000) - The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association's (CTIA's) Wireless 2000 conference kicked off here yesterday with broad promises from technology leaders about wireless access to data from handheld devices and smart phones.

Among the keynote presenters, Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates said his company is expanding joint ventures with wireless companies and considers wireless research and development of the highest priority.

He also announced MSN Mobile 2.0, an upgrade that will extend wireless services, such as MSN Hotmail, a Web-based e-mail service, to consumers.

Gates also showed how Hotmail will allow access to such services with intelligent functions that limit the use of keyboards on cell phones. Cell phone "keyboards" are awkward to use because they have only nine number keys and those keys must be used to spell out an entire alphabet. For the letter C, for instance, the number 2 must be tapped three times.

"That kind of simplicity is key to the growth of the wireless Web," said Daniel D. Oglevee, founder of SkyScout in New York, a start-up that's building tools for access to the wireless Web. Oglevee demonstrated for a reporter how long it takes to access a Web site via a smart phone using the nine number keys. It took nearly a minute to type in phone.com.

Gates also described priority-setting software that will become essential for mobile workers for sorting through reams of daily e-mails. The software will sort e-mail according to the highest priority, partly based on when action is required, or whatever priorities a user defines.

Also at the opening keynotes, U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Kennard said the FCC is committed to heading off a radio "spectrum drought" to allow wireless uses to expand. Among its plans: an auction of spectrum now used for television channels 60 to 69, part of which, analysts say, will be used by service providers for wireless networks.

Kennard also called for industry to cooperate in creating a secondary market for underused spectrum, where a carrier could sell capacity to another carrier much the same way wireline carriers have a secondary market today.

Kennard said the future potential of wireless is greater than for wireline networks in use today, partly because it can be provided for the poor at lesser cost.

Chris Gent, chief executive of Vodafone AirTouch PLC in London, said his company has started a program for distrubuting cellular phones in poorer areas with the help of the police as a means of protecting people from crime.

Other innovations in wireless were described by Keiji Tachikawa, president of NTT Mobile Communications Network Inc. in Tokyo. His company has distributed digital packet cellular services via a new i-mode product. The service allows users to pay per packet sent, rather than by the minute, significantly cutting costs.

NTT has 28 million subscribers, of which 4.5 million use the new i-mode, paying the equivalent of $3 per month for the service and an average of up to $10 more each month for the packets they send and receive. The most popular consumer application today is a service that allows users to download a new cartoon each day.

While the cartoon service will appeal only to consumers, and possibly primarily children, it is an indication of the interest that business users and others might have in wireless Internet services, said Tom Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telephone Industry Association, which sponsors Wireless 2000.

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