CTIA: Wireless visions collide in keynotes

NEW ORLEANS - Wireless executives at a Tuesday morning keynote session here at the CTIA Wireless show looked toward ubiquitous high-speed services and new ways of using phones, but some disagreed as to how those services will be delivered.

Wi-Fi wireless LAN hot spots will complement fast wide-area data services such as GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), said Sky Dayton, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Wi-Fi service provider Boingo Wireless Inc. Boingo on Tuesday announced a partnership with T-Mobile USA Inc. in which users will be able to connect to Wi-Fi hot spots and GPRS services with the same account and the same software, Dayton said. The software, provided by Boingo, will show the user all the hot spots available in the local area as well as whether GPRS is available, and the user can choose between the two.

"These two technologies really belong together. They have different strengths and they're complementary, and together we can deliver a better user experience," Dayton said.

Irwin Jacobs, chairman and CEO of Qualcomm Inc., sees a different future. High-speed 3G (third-generation) cellular service will leave behind Wi-Fi for most users on the go, he said.

"You don't have to go to a hot spot. You don't have to park your car in the gas station in order to get a download. It's available wherever you might be," Jacobs said. "That's the one, I think, that will end up being the preferred service ... for most people. Once you've paid for that service, then why pay additional whenever you're near a hot spot, if the service is completely adequate?" Wi-Fi's place will largely be within homes and offices, he said.

The cost of deploying a high-speed wireless WAN infrastructure will be driven down by a large number of users signing up for it, Jacobs said.

NTT DoCoMo Inc. President and CEO Keiji Tachikawa gave a glimpse into the future of that carrier's wireless services. Wireless services are moving from voice to non-voice, from domestic to international and from people to other kinds of "users," such as PCs, cars and pets, Tachikawa said.

An informal poll on stage of four top executives of wireless operators showed varying views on some topics but agreement on one: Wireless carriers now have an opportunity to grab customers away from wired telephony all together.

One of them gave a hint as to how he will tackle the competition. Len Lauer, president of Sprint PCS Group, a division of Sprint Corp., said Sprint is readying a package of services that will combine local, long-distance and mobile phone service. The timing of the introduction has not yet been set, according to Sprint.

The carrier executives were playing to a sympathetic crowd. Opening the session, Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) President and CEO Tom Wheeler said he heard a mobile phone ring.

"This is the only show in the world where no one on stage objects if your cell phone goes off," Wheeler quipped, to laughter from the audience.

CTIA Wireless will continue through Wednesday.

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