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    Sun shines on CTIA opening


    It was mankind versus .net — and mankind won

    By Keith Dyer, at CTIA Wireless in Atlanta.

    It’s cold in Atlanta, although there are clear blue skies overhead. One other Sun also put in an appearance at the opening session of CTIA Wireless 2004, warming the tone

    Scott McNeally rescued a not always comfortable Jeopardy gameshow-style presentation at his keynote speech with a series of withering asides about rival Microsoft, which always plays well. Whether the delegates appreciated his relentless sales schtick and continued, if amusing, ribbing (coinings included Microsoft’s Restart button, and its Lookout email client) is another matter. A slightly stilted presentation on the virtues of Sun’s thin-client Java-card desktop broadcast system struggled at times to stay on message at a show that is dedicated to wireless, but there was probably just enough in there on the mobile applications of Java to keep the audience happy.

    Not that McNeally seemed to care. Sporting the jeans and blazer combination UK readers will recognise as the full Clarkson, and a tan that might best be described as the full O’ Connor, the Sun man shone his full patter at the assembled audience, as his straight man foil – a Brit by the way – just about got through his demonstration.

    McNeally’s points, roughly, were that Java is a good thing, and is already in one and a half billion devices. Java will become one of the top 25 brands in the world, with ‘Java verified’ and ‘Java powered’ becoming marks of quality assurance. Thin client server computing, with smart cards providing user authentication and a desktop environment on whatever device, will win out in the battle to provide the infrastructure for fixed and mobile web services. Indeed, it has won, according to Scott. It’s secure, it’s portable, it works great in mobile phones as well. “This thing is over. It was mankind versus .net and mankind won. It’s over,” he said. Righto, then.

    Mind you, if it was stilted over-scripting you wanted, then McNeally’s predecessor as keytnote speaker, new CTIA ceo Steve Largent, had the edge. European readers may or may not be aware that Largent is a pro football hall of famer, and US Congressman of seven years’ standing. This makes him uniquely well qualified to lead a wireless communications body as it faces the crucial challenge of staving off the not always welcome interest of the governmental and regulatory bodies.

    Anyway, Largent’s real moment of awkwardness came when he was required to conduct an fireside chat style interview with FCC chairman, Michael Powell. Powell calmly batted away a series of straight deliveries on the intentions of the FCC. Powell said it was not inevitable that the regulator would start treating wireless operators like utilities, as long as the operators behaved responsibly. Message was, ‘behave like good children and play nicely and we won’t have to get involved. Start squabbling and all and we’ll take the ball away ourselves’. There was less candour on the issue of spectrum licensing, auction and trading. Powell said that mobile operators had to look at unlicensed use of spectrum as an opportunity, not as a possible issue for interference. Look at wireless LAN, he said. Mobile operators had been worried about a proliferation of wireless LAN hotspots but now it’s looking more like a business opportunity for them.
    Largent creaked his backbone into something resembling a relaxed position, and thanked Chairman Powell for his presence. All in the audience breathed easy.

    The last keynote speaker was John Chambers, president of Cisco Systems. But Mobile Europe had to go so we can’t tell you what he said. Long odds on it not being based on the ubiquity of Cisco as mobile goes IP, though.