Despite the compactness of this years Comdex, the trade show represented an important expansion in the role of industry alliances. Perhaps for the first time, multivendor initiatives and interoperability standards had a higher profile than the latest big thing from the biggest company.
Though Microsofts Bill Gates opened his keynote speech with the words “Welcome to Comdex XP,” the widely previewed operating system created little buzz. Yes, the Microsoft Partner Pavilion was big enough to deserve its own ZIP code—perhaps its own time zone—but overall, the show was more excited about other and less monolithic themes.
Nokia Chairman and CEO Jorma Ollila and Sony President and CEO Kunitake Ando showed elegant and useful products that people will love and promised to cooperate on “an open, nonfragmented software architecture” to deliver mobile and personal communications services. Ollila also announced an initiative to push cross-vendor interoperability efforts with NTT DoCoMo, AT&T Wireless and just about every other company in the mobile phone industry, creating interoperable mobile phone software based on XHTML, Cascading Style Sheets, XML-based protocols, Java and the Symbian operating system.
Another sign of industry collaboration bearing fruit is Bluetooth. Yes, Bluetooth. After two or three years of hearing “this time we mean it” from the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, were instantly dubious when we hear any Bluetooth claims. Real Bluetooth products were out at Comdex this year, however, and will be trickling out in greater numbers over the next few months. We are excited about Bluetooths very low power consumption and low-cost chip sets and call on Bluetooth manufacturers to focus on networking and PDA applications, as well as cell phone applications. Meanwhile, for longer-range applications such as enterprise campus networks, the 802.11-family protocols also showed healthy momentum: Comdex saw this popular standard in every form factor from CompactFlash cards for handhelds to built-in antennas in laptop PCs.
We can look across the pond to see how users benefit from cross-vendor cooperation. Were green with envy at the way Europeans have built on an existing Global System for Mobile Communications digital wireless infrastructure to make cell phones more than glorified walkie-talkies. Always-on General Packet Radio Service deployments are way ahead in Europe compared with North America.
A focus on platforms, rather than gadgets, isnt typical of Comdex, but it wasnt a typical Comdex. We welcome these initiatives that help break up the technical and political logjams that keep North American mobile networking in the dark ages.