Telecom, Hip-Hop Execs Talk Pragmatism, Possibility on Wireless Future

LG InfoComm shows off controlling of networked household appliances through a mobile phone, Motorola chief looks to machine-to-machine dialogue and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons says make sure the phones work as phones first.

ATLANTA—Two top telecom executives and a hip-hop mogul took the keynote stage at the CTIA Wireless trade show here today to talk about what constitutes significant wireless technology.

The future lies in the ability to use wireless devices as a means to communicate with remote, inanimate objects that are part of daily life, according to Juno Cho, president of LG InfoComm U.S.A. Inc., and Ed Zander, Motorola Inc. chairman and CEO.

But the surprising voice of reason during Tuesdays keynotes came from Russell Simmons, chairman of Def Jam Records and communications provider RuSh Communications Ltd., who said handset vendors need to make sure that their phones work first and foremost as phones.

LG InfoComm, a Korean handset maker, opened up U.S. headquarters in January in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Cho elaborated on the possibilities of "enriching your life through mobile technology."

"As far as consumers wanting new applications for their phones, it really comes down to integrating technology from their daily lives into the handset," he said.

An LG InfoComm employee demonstrated a networked air conditioner, refrigerator, microwave, stove and washing machine, all of which were controlled with a mobile phone. He garnered the most cheers when he turned off the networked stoves gas valve using his cell phone.

Cho also demonstrated several phones that ship in Europe and Korea but should be hitting the United States by the end of the year. Among these was the LG-7000, a phone with a built-in camcorder.

As Russell Simmons took the stage with Ralph Simon, chairman of the Mobile Entertainment Forum, the former donned a blue sportcoat and khakis and the latter a bright-pink pullover sweater and matching baseball hat. But while Simon was eager to talk about hip-hop ring tones and messaging services, Simmons remained the pragmatic one.

"The whole journey for me and for the various companies has been one of service," he said. "The only success weve had is when weve listened to the consumer."

Bells and whistles aside, functionality is what matters most to consumers, he said.

"I think everybody has to maintain balance," Simmons said, referring to the myriad applications on display at CTIA that focus on anything but voice. "Its great that you have 50 Cent [the No. 1 downloaded ring tone] on your phone, but if it doesnt work, [expletive], its a phone. It has to be a phone first. …

"Functionality is key. Its the first component," he added. "The aesthetics are critical for creating a buzz, but first you need the right tool. You cant go back and fix that later."

Simon urged Simmons to consider the appeal of data applications, saying, "I know you like your yoga. Maybe we should develop a yoga Phat Farm phone app."

Simmons also weighed in on why the hip-hop community exerts such a strong retail influence in the United States.

"Hip-hop has been the voice of people who have been locked out," he said. "Why are they the best distributors of luxury products? I guess maybe they studied it, had high aspirations and bought into the American dream. The reason theyre so powerful is that they love it so much and take stock in it."

He said hip-hop artists were among the early adopters of wireless technology, citing one rapper in the early 1990s who "had a pager, and he wasnt a doctor and he wasnt a drug dealer."

Zander, who took the reins at Motorola in January, acknowledged as he took the stage last that he had tough acts to follow.

"I didnt know I was going to follow washing machines and Russell Simmons," he said.

According to Zander, wireless technologys future is riding on seamless mobility and machine-to-machine communications.

"Its not just about people to people," he said. "I think the big opportunity going forward is about people to things, things to people, and I think whats even more exciting is things to things."

Zander said it would be a while before a user could control a kitchen with a phone, but that it would happen eventually. In the meantime, he showed off several new camera phones that Motorola introduced at the show and a cell phone with stereo speakers that will ship shortly. He also announced a partnership with wireless middleware company Good Technology Inc. On its new Motorola MPx mobile handset, Motorola will support the companys GoodLink wireless messaging and Microsoft-based corporate data access system.

"It extends our reach to enterprise customers by extending into Microsoft environments," Zander said.

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