Sprint CTO Vision Calls for Unified Devices

SAN MATEO (07/24/2000) - As the chief technology officer at Sprint Corp., Marty Kaplan is laying the foundation for a new generation of unified telecommunications services. In an interview with InfoWorld Editor in Chief Michael Vizard, Kaplan lays out his vision for brokering services that will allow people to seamlessly access information across a broad array of computing devices.

InfoWorld: One of the hottest topics of conversation today is the advent of wireless computing. What's driving demand for wireless services?

Kaplan: People want to use a different means to gain information from the Internet. Today, gaining information from the Internet means you sit down at your PC and log on. Well, we've gone from logging on to always on. We've gone from always on to where you can get information via the telephone and personal digital systems from other devices.

InfoWorld: What impact will that have on business as a whole?

Kaplan: What's being created is a have and a have-nots world that, just by the very nature, means more people want to be connected. If you're not connected, you're going to be information poor and information poor means you'll not be able to close the gap between those that are having information, making decisions, making choices in everyday life and those that don't have access.

InfoWorld: What impact is that trend having on the demands of IT infrastructure?

Kaplan: We're seeing that [demand] to be ever increasing. By the time you can get a data center built, it is already sharing a location with other servers and other applications, and has all sorts of demands. The space requirements are increasing exponentially.

InfoWorld: What media will dominate to make that happen?

Kaplan: There won't be a clear winner. It will be wire and wireless and cable and copper. Each of those will have an application limitation associated with it. I think that's going to be understood and that we are going to have segments of the marketplace that need a lot of bandwidth, and we will begin to personalize bandwidth needs, instead of spreading it like peanut butter to all the different customer segments.

InfoWorld: Will there be multiple types of devices for accessing these services, or will there be a convergence?

Kaplan: You're going to have convergence happen within the instruments of the future. The instruments we might carry today are a pager, a wireless phone, and a PDA. In the future, you'll have a device that can handle all those different functionalities.

InfoWorld: How will networks evolve to make this vision a reality?

Kaplan: Software and brokering of services become an important part of the equation. We think there will be brokering services right there at the instrument and up within the network that sees when you went from information [that is] poor in volume and quality to information rich in volume and quality.

Then we can just summarize the information for you instead of giving you raw information. Let me begin to stream information to you that is more meaningful and at a higher quality than you normally would get.

InfoWorld: So, a piece of content could show up on a server, and then the server would be able to figure out what kind of device I happen to have with me at that particular moment. Then send me an appropriate form of that content for that device?

Kaplan: Absolutely. And it already understands exactly what device you're on and where you're located.

InfoWorld: What's the biggest hurdle that the industry has to overcome?

Kaplan: Obviously, one of the things that always plays out here is driving standards. I think we're doing a better job in the industry of getting that done in terms of cycle time as compared to the past, but we're not fast enough with regard to the demand.

I think that the world is pushing toward a standard H.248, for instance. What we need to do is ask what's going to keep us from getting it done faster so that it is out there and people are developing to that. What we have to do today is unleash the last mile.

We have got to have people capable of deciding what amount of bandwidth they would like to have, not deciding if they can get bandwidth.

InfoWorld: What role does the government play in that process today?

Kaplan: I think that the regulatory bodies have to understand that the world of now and the future is in fact a world that doesn't abide by the rules that they spent 100 years setting. Trying to relate to today's and tomorrow's capabilities and to a set of rules that don't apply a makes no sense. They're going to have to get out of that space and allow people to do things. There's too much between the state and federal throttling development.

InfoWorld: What are the business issues that have to be dealt with to make this a reality?

Kaplan: The big issue is what will be the driver of the capability? Is it the revenue streams that will drive people to develop the software needed to accomplish this, and [then] rally around the end-devices? Will a businessperson who becomes more productive one day say in the future, 'I don't know how I did without this capability before?' The capability we provide has to be something that helps people to balance the work and home place.

InfoWorld: Would this also need to be deployable on a global basis?

Kaplan: One has to make sure that this is not a domestic U.S. service, but is a global service. The key to globalization, though, is not how much bandwidth you have, but the fact that I understand where you're at and what device you're on and how much bandwidth you have available.

Therefore, it can alter the application as needed to give you the same content, maybe in a different look and feel, [but] based on exactly what the end-device looks like and the amount of bandwidth that is required. Wherever my profile exists, the network now follows me. So that my corporate VPN is with me, no matter where I am in the world, including speed-calling numbers, speech recognition, or voice recognition, and so forth.

InfoWorld: At any e-business operation, the technology in use is really the lifeblood of the company. That's a different view of IT than even three years ago. What drove that change?

Kaplan: Everybody is trying to state their value and move up the value chain.

To do that, they had to take a look at what underlying capabilities are going to enable them to move up the value chain. The enabling capabilities of applications and services was probably seen first by the technology community -- before the marketplace. So initially, technology was ahead of the need. But as you look at technology now and you think of the life cycle of any given product, it's clear that the life cycle of an idea or product went from many years to less than a year. And so with that you had to change such that product development cycles had to be a lot less than what they were before.

InfoWorld: As the CTO, what's your role in all this at Sprint?

Kaplan: My job is to ensure that the designs and architecture, whether it be local service, long-distance service, international service, voice, data, video, wire line, or wireless, is seamless to our products and services by using the underlying architecture. It's understanding the vision of the future and being able to articulate the enabling business capabilities of that vision.

But my job isn't done until I can service it. Not only is it creating the vision but it is managing the execution and implementation of that vision through applied research, design, engineering, integrated testing, and program management.

Marty Kaplan, Sprint

Title: Senior vice president and chief technology officerYears at company: 10Biggest successes: Leading the integration of products and services across all Sprint divisions and its strategic partners, while maximizing technology and design synergiesBiggest challenges: Identifying changing networking technologies and applying those technologies to Sprint's short and long-term strategic plansPersonal note: Kaplan enjoys designing and working with stained glass, playing billiards, and exercising.

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