Even in the Wireless Business

Does falling on your own sword make good business sense? Let's see. Targeted apparently at young teens, a Philip Morris television ad campaign tells us, "Think. Don't smoke." Philip Morris company stock is up 30 percent since March. Guess when this ad campaign started?

The movie industry's Jack Valenti announced that the industry has seen the error of its ways and needs to improve. To that end, Valenti promised in late September that moviemakers will self-regulate how they advertise sex and violence to children. No R-rated trailers shown before a PG-rated film. And Scream 7 will not be advertised on the Cartoon Network. Boy, that's self-control. Now watch as both candidates congratulate themselves for bringing the movie industry to its knees.

But I guarantee you that right after the election we'll see Valenti and top moviemakers on the White House lawn with Valenti presenting the new president with a plaque etched with the dos and do nots of promoting sex and violence.

And now Verizon Wireless becomes the first cell phone network carrier to say that it will support legislation that seeks to ban cellular handset use by drivers.

Does this mean that Verizon as a company admits that cell phone use while driving is dangerous? Well, yes and no.

Verizon Communications Inc. just inked what I am sure is a lucrative deal with OnStar, General Motors Corp.'s wholly owned subsidiary, to be the wireless network provider for OnStar's cellular, hands-free phone service that will be integrated into almost every GM vehicle and offered as an option.

With millions of cars rolling off the assembly line, it's not a bad deal. So I don't think Verizon will go beyond saying handheld cellular devices are dangerous. That is, however, a tacit admission by Verizon that cell phone use by drivers can be distracting.

Watch as a consortium of carriers and handset manufacturers create an ad campaign that says, "Keep your hands on the wheel." I have a feeling it won't say anything about "and your mind on the road." That could be misinterpreted. In a column a number of months ago, I argued that it is not hands-free but mind-free operation of a car that is dangerous; but few people seem to adhere to this point of view. And I doubt we will see a general recall of cell phones that don't accept headset adapters.

My question is, should we be wary of advertisements created by the so-called wrongdoers -- Philip Morris, the movie industry, cell phone manufacturers -- that now tell us to do right? I worry about subliminal advertising.

I get a lot of questions about safety issues concerning the use and overuse of cell phones. I've spoken to a number of people in the field, in particular Travis Larsen of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association and Marty Cooper, the inventor of the cell phone and now the founder of ArrayComm Inc., a data-only wireless service. Here's what they tell me.

Cooper says Motorola has been testing for the effects of radiation on the brain since the 1950s. Back then they strapped walkie-talkie-like devices to the heads of pigs. Porcine memory seemed to stay intact.

Since then, according to Larsen, the government has sponsored and awarded grants to independent laboratory evaluation programs. Some of the tests are still focused on whether the radiation emitted from a cell phone will heat the brain to the extent that it breaks through the blood-brain barrier. So far there is no evidence that cell phones are hot enough to do that. But the labs are also looking for any unknown side effects from keeping that phone plastered to your head.

As one industry expert said, it is actually what we don't know that is scary. How do you test for an effect when you don't know what that effect might be?

The baloney continues to be sliced

Reread last week's Wireless World column and then read a joint Siebel Systems Inc.'s -Nokia Corp.'s press release. If anyone questioned what I had to say about a forthcoming IT crisis over wireless standards in which companies will have to deploy and keep in synch multiple versions of wireless solutions, see the paragraph below from their press release.

" 'As part of the deal with the Finnish wireless and telecommunications equipment maker [Nokia], Siebel applications will run on the Nokia WAP [Wireless Application Protocol] Server, which will enable its customers to order products and services, update sales inquiries, review account information, and respond to customer service requests,' the companies said in a joint statement."

Interpretation: One of the leading CRM (customer relationship management) companies has to develop a unique solution not just for Nokia cell phone users, mind you, but for the Nokia WAP gateway as well. So if your company selects Siebel as its e-CRM solution but has hundreds of people out in the field all with different devices, whatcha gonna do?

Industry standard my eye.

If you feel like apologizing, send e-mail to ephraim_schwartz@infoworld.com.

Ephraim Schwartz is an editor at large in InfoWorld's News Department.

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