A wrestling match it was not. The exchange between the heads of Cingular Wireless and Verizon Wireless on a plenary panel at the SuperComm 2001 trade show on Monday was cordial, topical and produced two points of agreement: Wireless data services shouldn't be expected to earn significant revenue for a while, and the wireless industry must police itself or risk the regulator's gaze.
Blaming the poor reputation of wireless access protocol (WAP) on "unrealistic expectations and overzealous marketing," Steven Carter, Cingular's chief executive officer, cautioned the packed crowd at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta against making the same mistakes with 3G -- third-generation wireless services.
"We can't create the demand first, and then invent what people want," he said. "In the long run, what will be important is who is the first with the applications people want."
Carter's counterpart at Verizon Wireless concurred.
"I think all of us in the industry share in the guilt of overhyping" wireless data services, said Dennis Strigl, president and CEO of Verizon Wireless. Strigl said wireless carriers should get back to the fundamentals -- alleviating network congestion, improving service to rural areas, eliminating bad roaming experiences, and making customer service more available.
"The wireless industry could find ourselves in the cross hairs of regulators that want to regulate our service levels," he said.
While Strigl was more direct, both executives expressed concern about regulation inhibiting the wireless business.
Verizon Wireless plans to launch a wireless device public safety campaign beginning in the first week of July, coinciding with the Independence Day holiday in the U.S.. Carter mentioned recent legislation in some states banning drivers from using cellular phones in cars, but did not specifically tie Verizon's stepped-up safety efforts to preemptive measures against further regulation.
"The sensible use of cell phones enhances life," he said. Citing statistics showing about 2 percent of accidents are caused by cell phone distraction, Carter said there were more dangerous distractions than phones but "we could see the incidence rise if we don't educate."
Carter joked to the hometown crowd that "it's not often I get to express myself on behalf of small carriers," comparing Atlanta-based Cingular to the relatively gigantic Verizon. He also said companies should be free to spell their names any way they want, and that because he's British, he would have found a way to spell Cingular differently anyway.