3G wireless promises much but delivers little

I hope I'm not being too hardheaded -- a real testa dura, you might say -- but when you get two examples of the same thing in the same week you begin to see the handwriting on the wall.

Example 1: At e-Link 2001, an e-commerce conference run by Commerce One for its customers, the Commerce One executive team was out in full force regaling the audience with talk of end-to-end, SCM (supply-chain management) solutions that connect to back-end systems and offer huge cost savings and increased business.

But when I raised my hand to ask whether this is happening now, I was told no. This is, of course, a goal. "But we are showing you what it is capable of," an exec explained.

I must be a testa dura because it just didn't sink in. I pushed but to no avail. There are pieces available now, of course, but the whole e-commerce promise of cost reductions is built on integration, from front end to back end, and nobody is saying exactly when that will happen.

As the exec turned from me to answer the next question, I blurted out, "The devil is in the details."

Example 2: I received a call from a company whose technology will be the backbone of 3G, the third-generation wireless technology.

The talk revolved around "dispelling the myths about 3G deployment."

Here are the myths the caller believed he was dispelling.

Myth 1: There are no applications for 3G. My caller dispelled this myth quite handily by telling me, "There are plenty of applications on the way."

Myth 2: There are no handsets available for 3G. That myth was easily dispelled as well. "There will be plenty of handsets available from the major suppliers," he said. "In fact, they are on the way."

Myth 3: Deployment of 3G will be late. This myth was easily dispatched, too. "They already have 3G in South Korea," I was told.

What could I say? I had egg on my face for sure.

I was also told Sprint, Verizon, and others wouldn't promise it if they couldn't deliver.

Really? What if there's a glitch? Let's say, just hypothetically, that the economy turns down and these companies can't get the financing they need to roll it out?

The devil really is in the details, and a promise is not a solution.

Myth 4: Europe is technologically ahead of us. My caller pointed out that the move from GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) to Wide CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access), which is what most of the European telecommunications companies face, requires a major build-out that will put them behind the United States.

Here I would simply dispel the shibboleth that it matters who's first.

When the United States was in a space race with the former Soviet Union, it was generally agreed that whichever country landed a human on the moon first would win the hearts and minds of the people of the world. FYI: When the political analysts say people, they really mean the heads of state.

I suppose we won that battle. But somehow I am less worried that we will have to sing "God Save the Queen" if British Telecom is the first to offer wireless MP3 service. Rather than blurring the difference between what is a goal and what is available now, companies should level with us. If they would do that I wouldn't have to look like a grumpy old reporter who likes nothing but bad news. Because it's not that. It's just that somebody has to say that the emperor has no clothes.

This story, "3G wireless promises much but delivers little" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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