The Thought Leadership ForumWednesday, February 06, 2008
I just spent the last day and a half at the Fourth Annual Thought Leadership Forum on Mobile Technology hosted by Panasonic Toughbook and many of its partners including Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, Intel, Sybase and Qualcomm. The event was attended by 500 IT and corporate professionals from more than 300 companies, large and small. Some of the attendees were Panasonic customers and some were potential customers.
This event was not a Toughbook love fest. On the first afternoon, I sat in on a discussion of the advisory board led by Rance Poehler, President of Panasonic PCSC. He was open and forthright with those in the room, including both existing and potential customers, and he asked questions and gave answers that did not dodge anything. In this session, I learned that most of the major companies (large users of wirelessly-enabled notebooks) use two different wireless operators and a couple have accounts with all three major wireless broadband suppliers (AT&T, Sprint and Verizon).
Almost all of these companies are using Windows XP and don’t want anything to do with Windows Vista at this point because they claim it is not stable enough, it is too big in size and requires at least 2 GB of memory to run properly and they feel it is not worth the effort to support. They were shocked when Rance stated that Intel’s new processor family, the Motevina, requires Vista because it was designed to make certain parts of Vista run better and more efficiently (I have verified this to the best of my ability). It will run XP, but it is optimized for Vista. This chipset is designed for ultra-mobile devices (UMDs) (it will be low power) but it only supports up to 1 GB of memory. Since Vista does not run well in 1 GB, this entire processor move is very strange to me. Intel believes that this chip will be the chip of choice for UMDs, and yet it appears as though there is a conflict with the chip and the operating system for which it was designed. I guess we will find out more about this later.
Another thing I learned at this event was that the representatives from Sprint did not want to field any questions about WiMAX and wanted instead to focus the attendees on what is here and working: EV-DO Rev A. There was mention of WiMAX in the Sprint presentation, but the focus was clearly on the here and now, not what might be. Intel, however, came out fighting. I sat through the first half of the Intel presentation and was impressed with its product roadmap and some of the numbers put up on the screen. For example, in 2007, there were 107 million notebooks sold and this number is expected to climb to a total of 165 million in 2009 when, for the first time, it will surpass the number of desktop systems sold.
Intel described its new chipset (the Menlow) for Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) for consumers and Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPCs) for business. (I guess that’s how we will tell the difference―if it is designed for consumer products it is an MID, and if it is designed for the business community it is a UMPC. They all will, of course, have 802.11N Wi-Fi on board, and the processors will draw 10 times less power than current notebook computer chips. I was interested in what Intel had to say and was just starting to relax. Then came the last part of the presentation―WiMAX. Never mind that this event was about becoming more productive today and making use of today’s technologies and applications, Intel felt the need to push into the world of WiMAX.
The first few sentences went like this: WiMAX is the next big thing in wireless, it has better bandwidth economics, its signals can travel for up to 30 miles and it will revolutionize wireless as we know it today. It is the first wireless technology designed specifically for data, so it is better than technologies that were designed for voice first and later adapted to data. (And here I thought UMTS and CDMA were developed for both voice and data services! Nice of Intel to set the record straight...)
The WiMAX chipset roadmap looks like this: The Echo Peak (code name) will support both Wi-Fi and WiMAX and will be available in 2008, and the Baxter Peak, designed for UMPCs and MIDs, will be available later. Intel also stated that it did not believe we would see a PC Card version of WiMAX since most people would prefer it built into their device. I think this is a strange way to look at it since there is an installed base of millions of PCs with no wide-area wireless capabilities. To me, it would be logical to go after the PC Card market. Intel’s final statement about WiMAX was to assure us all that WiMAX is the next big thing and the number of WiMAX customers will grow from 150 million in 2008 to 750 million in 2010, and by 2012 there will be more than 1.3 billion.
I was also speaking at the event and had decided to downplay my comments about WiMAX and concentrate on what Panasonic asked about: Today and tomorrow, productivity gains, embedded wide-area wireless and the advantages, return on investment and implementation. However, as you might imagine, Intel’s comments fired me up again and when I got on stage I shared my beliefs, which, as you may know, are very different from Intel’s. Afterward, I received many thank-yous from attendees for providing a different perspective. What I don’t get is that this was neither the time nor the place to spend time on WiMAX, but Intel had to get its shot in and, once again, provided false information and hype instead of talking about WiMAX in realistic terms. If WiMAX fails in the United States (and the jury is still out on that one), much of that failure can be attributed to Intel for over-hyping a wireless technology that has some potential and certainly could be a competitor to UMTS and EV-DO, but not a revolutionary step forward. Get real, Intel!
Except for the WiMAX hype stuff, this was a great conference with great attendees, lots of time for the partners to show their wares and plenty of social time to network. Panasonic didn’t make a big sales pitch but provided information and let people make up their own minds. I talked with people from more than one company that were not Panasonic customers when they attended last year but by this year had begun buying Toughbooks. I think this type of conference really helps spread wireless into the corporate world. People with success stories sat next to people who have not yet gotten their feet wet with wireless broadband and exchanged ideas, pitfalls and successes, demystifying the entire concept of wide-area wireless broadband. Corporate America and others will grow more comfortable with wireless when they rub elbows with those who have successfully implemented it.
Andrew M. Seybold