Monday, December 15, 2008

Walt Mossberg, Up Close and Personal

We've got the whole world in our hands. Or, at least we will in the next couple of years if we own a new class of handhelds. Handheld devices was the primary focus of a panel discussion, held last month, featuring Wall Street Journal columnist, Wall Mossberg, and Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets.

The panel discussion dubbed, "The Future of Wireless Communications," was presented by MIT Enterprise Forum of Atlanta. Mossberg was in rare-form (crass, but humorous) at the sold-out event. Mossberg covers personal technology and, to that end, the panel discussion was very consumer-centric.

Mossberg compared the emergence of handhelds to the introduction of the personal computer. He questioned de la Vega on the fairness of AT&T being the exclusive carrier of the iPhone. Of course, de la Vega defended this exlusivity by stating that AT&T's substantial investment subsidized Apple taking the iPhone to market and, more importantly, brought the 3G iPhone to its current $200 price point. According to de la Vega, AT&T invested $500 million in its network BEFORE the iPhone launched to ensure the network could handle the increased capacity. Oddly enough, de la Vega would "not disclose" the length of the exclusivity contract between AT&T and Apple, which was wiidely reported as a five-year deal.

de la Vega talked a lot about the 4G iPhone and the migration to LTE (Long-Term Evolution) mobile broadband system. LTE will deliver 100Mbps per channel and give consumers performance comparable to today's wired broadband, de la Vega said. LTE should be rolled out in 2010-2011.

Mossberg also dinged the iPhone for its dropped calls and short battery life. And, to his credit, he also mentioned other products in the market including the BlackBerry Storm and the Google G1.

After a one-on-one between Mossberg and de la Vega, Phillip Alvelda and Professor Joy Laskar joined the panel. Alvelda is the founding CEO of MobiTv, the world's leading provider of live television, VOD, and digital music over mobile and broadband networks. Laskar is the Schlumberger Chair in microelectronics in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech.

There was some (brief) discussion about wireless networks, including WiMax open source (mobile) platforms including Android and Symbian.

In closing, Mossberg asked the panelists what company would they start if not in their current roles. de la Vega would create a technology to link various components, (handhelds, television, computer), that are not connected today. Alvelda would focus on inexpensive technology to appeal to emerging markets, such as India which is netting 100 million new mobile subscribers a year.

The MIT Enterprise Forum of Atlanta is a not-for-profit organization that provides educational programs and services that promote innovation and entrpreneurship between the business and technology sectors in the Southeast. Annual membership starts at $150. All you MIT grads only have to pay $90.

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