3G gets real, Gorbachev to address show

Wireless technology in homes, on highways, in hospitals and in national defense will take centre stage at the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association's (CTIA) annual trade show for wireless products and services at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando from March 18-20.

The show's finale seems to come out of left field for a technology convention. Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union and Nobel Peace Prize winner, will address CTIA Wireless 2002 on its closing day. Gorbachev has cited the abundance of out-of-work Russian scientists in previous talks with technology executives, asking them to consider moving some of their programming and research operations to Russia.

Wireless carriers, equipment makers and developers have been preparing for some time to take advantage of this year's scheduled lighting of 3G (third generation) wireless networks. Vendors have promised a 3G revolution akin to that of the Internet, built on the backbone of a wireless network with the capacity for data transmission at broadband speeds. But most 3G talk in the U.S. to date had been hype and hypothesis, because no carrier had activated a 3G network for broad use.

Theory could yield to fact with Verizon Wireless Inc.'s 3G network up and running along the East Coast, AT&T Wireless Services Inc. and VoiceStream Wireless Corp.'s GSM (General System for Mobile Communications) and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) high-speed wireless networks at work and the impending launch of Sprint Corp.'s nationwide 3G network set for the middle of the year.

"Last year at this time there were a lot of layoffs and we seemed to be sliding into a recession," said Ed Pack, business development manager for Delta Products Corp., a cell tower power equipment company in Fremont, California. "This year we're more hopeful ... the infrastructure is in place."

All the projects he's been working on have had something to do with GSM technology, either 3G or nearly so, he said. The question isn't whether it's going to happen, but who is going to make it happen after the industry consolidation of the last year.

"We don't really sell anything at the show, but we make connections with existing customers and their upper management," Pack said. "The biggest thing for us is, who is still standing?"

Besides Gorbachev, headline speakers for the convention include Patricia Russo, the newly installed president and chief executive officer of Lucent Technologies Inc; Andy Grove, Intel Corp. chairman; John Stanton, VoiceStream Wireless Corp. chairman; U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell and Keiji Tachikawa, president and chief executive officer of NTT DoCoMo Inc.

Most of the keynote speakers' companies will have new wireless products being promoted on the show floor. VoiceStream announced the availability this month of BlackBerry 5810 wireless e-mail handhelds with integrated phones for its networks. Lucent plans to showcase two new base station systems at the convention. Intel has new telematics equipment for wireless systems in vehicles.

Show organizers intend to highlight five areas of wireless development -- home networking, health care, telematics in vehicles, mobile enterprise and national defense. CTIA will also present a fashion showcase of wireless accessories and wearable products.

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