Why Cant Wi-Fi Be More Like Star Trek?

Opinion: This year, all of the big mobile operators are starkly aware that they're in a race. But "Star Trek" taught us never to make the mistake of assuming that people operate rationally.

I wish shows such as Enterprise Wireless Technology were more like Star Trek. At least then we wouldnt be tempted to look for rational motives in their stars.

Last year, EWT in London was a temple of Wi-Fi hot spots. This year, it was all cell phone operators. The telcos have taken over.

Well, weve found a trend, right? So, whats behind it?

Partly, if were to be serious about this, its the fact that the wireless space is starting to be real, not fantasy. Last year, IT management dealt with the irresistible growth of wireless very much the way I remember "DP managers" (data processing managers, as we called them then) dealt with the first personal computers. The technique is called denial.

Denial works in the short term. You say "it isnt there," and when it goes away, you are proved right. And lets face it, lots of technologies are fads. Slates, ink, CB, voice recognition. Ignore it; it will go away, said the established people. It did. So, denial is rational.

But the "Star Trek" script writers never made the mistake of assuming people were rational. Planet shapers turned out to be motivated, not by rational commercial concerns, but by professional jealousy. Intergalactic warlords sacrificed empires for the sake of courtship. Well, would the wireless industry behave like that?

Yes, it seems. I asked the marketing director of one wireless infrastructure service provider (is that anonymous enough?), "Why are you looking to North American markets for your next expansion?"

I got the normal rational stuff about market sizes, strategic alliances, standards promulgation. All sounded about right.

Next Page: How the market is changing.