Wireless Pooh-bah Strikes Back (With a Feather)
Look, we’re biased when it comes to Walt Mossberg.
But BoomTown was not moved in the least by the post that CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent (pictured here) wrote yesterday on the blog for the wireless industry association’s annual meeting, taking place in San Francisco now through tomorrow.
Titled “Largent to Mossberg…Wish You Were Here in San Francisco,” he was apparently trying to smack back at Walt’s “Free My Phone” piece earlier this week, in which Walt blamed the large cellphone carriers for lack of innovation and compared them to Soviet ministries.
Largent is the rep of the wireless providers, so he had to respond, of course. But his argument basically was a complaint that Walt was not at CTIA’s show to see all the fabulous innovations, and he then also declined to address the core issues that Walt’s essay raised.
If Mr. Mossberg were here at CTIA’s Wireless I.T. & Entertainment 2007 show in San Francisco, he’d see what the wireless world really looks like today. Instead of writing about the old 2G world, he’d see firsthand how we have moved into the 3G broadband world, where options open up for consumers.
“He would see that there are more than 600 different wireless devices available to consumers in the U.S. today, from carriers, manufacturers and third-party retailers. Wireless customers in the U.S. can exchange voice, text and photo messages, can download or watch streaming videos and listen to radio programs. There are more than 150 wireless companies providing service across the country, from nationwide to regional and local providers. And dozens more companies have entered and exited the marketplace, driven by entrepreneurial vision and ambition to make their mark. If those things don’t define the meaning of a free market, what does?”
Largent went on to claim the industry was not static or stodgy and definitely not Kremlinesque, and noted that U.S. customers got the benefit of cheaper handsets than in Europe, for example.
What he left out? That those supposed benefits come at the steep price of limited choice, onerous contracts and inability to be, well, mobile, all of which Walt discussed and Largent did not address.
There was indeed a lot of innovation to be found at the CTIA show from a lot of great small companies, but that innovation comes in spite of the carriers and not because of them.
As Walt wrote:
Let me be clear: Any company that spends billions to build and maintain a wireless network deserves to be paid for its use, and deserves to make a profit and a return for its shareholders. Not only that, but companies like Verizon Wireless or AT&T Inc. should be free to build or sell phones or software or services.
“But, in my view, they shouldn’t be allowed to pick and choose what phones run on their networks, and what software and services run on those phones. We need a wireless mobile device ecosystem that mirrors the PC/Internet ecosystem, one where the consumers’ purchase of network capacity is separate from their purchase of the hardware and software they use on that network. It will take government action, or some disruptive technology or business innovation, to get us there.”
Also, what is with this odd graphic from the CTIA show–the slogan for the event is: “One Show. Two Personalities. Enterprise. Entertainment.”
But the picture is a six-person beast (pictured here) that scares us a little bit. (Largent, not so much.)