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Web Feature: Wireless or "Wire Loose?"
Columnist Dick Lee asks the question, "Is wireless promotion deceptive...or just delusional?"
Posted May 18, 2001
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I hate writing about history--especially ancient history--but remember back when the whole CRM industry went ga-ga over the Internet and Web-based architecture? Oh, they were synergistic, magic wands. Suddenly we could use 100% thin client software without a hitch (never mind a whole lotta salespeople couldn't work effectively at client sites because they needed an Internet connection to run their CRM software). And they were a matched set of silver bullets. Finally we could switch over to Web architecture and dispense with messy client-server systems (never mind it takes a certain CRM conference's travel agency twice as long to make speaker travel reservations because they "upgraded" to a Web-based system).

But best of all, they were the ultimate stimulants--the best of all highs. CRM types were euphoric about the Internet and Web architecture and no one one blinked an eye until the whole damn thing crashed around our ears. And then folks really did wonder what we'd been smoking.

Pretty delusional when we look back on it. Of course, the Internet and Web architecture are helping CRM along--and they'll play a progressively more important role over time. And maybe someday their purveyors will be ready and able to do the stuff they promised they could way back when. But for now, they can't. So we gotta keep our feet on the pavement. Unless we can find another industry ready and willing to blow clouds of blue smoke in our faces until we get as "unreal" as the stuff they're promising.

Now, who would do such a thing to the CRM industry? Well, I know just the candidate: the "wire loose" guys ("wireless" in polite circles, but I'm not polite). A bunch of bonafide smoke blowers. Not everyone in that biz, mind you. I've got a good buddy high up in wireless circles (no pun intended) who gives it to me straight whenever we talk just like I have techno-friends willing to give me the skinny on Internet and Web-architecture issues and constraints. But just as in times past, the straight-up types are getting drowned out by the hypesters and lots of CRM folks are swallowing it hook, line and sinker.

Here's the deal. On the hardware side, "wire loose" equipment manufacturers are shoveling out new devices by the barrel load. Hey, gonna replace the laptop any day now. Wire line modems? Ob-so-lete. Need to find a phone jack? Passé. Need more memory for customer transaction histories, etc.? Use your own. Need to give customers 100 percent attention, instead of tapping incessantly on some dumb little screen? Get with it. Need real utility instead of limited functionality, less data storage and obscenely slow data transmission speeds? Never mind that, we've got mucho devices to sell and more stuff comin'.

The "wire loose" communication guys are almost as bad, maybe worse. Listen to them and you'd think every square mile of the U.S. was "wired" for wireless. You'd think that data flowed through the air like water down Niagara Falls. But try it. It's like strapping data packets on the backs of ants. And universal service? Take a gander into a few wireless stores and look carefully at their coverage maps. What do you see? string bikinis trying to cover a my-sized country (and I'm a big guy). What you'll see mostly is open area where wireless data ain't going to or coming from. Never mind at what speed.

Just recently I wrote a white paper for a client to realistically assess what wireless data transmission can and can't do--today. I called my wireless industry buddy and asked for his opinion. He leveled with me and said the wireless device folks are way ahead of themselves making stuff the communication side won't have the bandwidth to support for maybe four years. Never mind the coverage. Funny, Gartner Group says about the same, four to five years.

Seems like the "loose wire" guys are forgetting that we won't even have a common data transmission protocol until and unless the whole industry, which hasn't been able to agree on any standards so far, miraculously blesses the new third generation (G3) standards. And then they need three years or more to rebuild their infrastructure accordingly if they have the capital to rebuild that fast. And if the federal government allows the "wire loose" guys more than a sniff of the needed transmission spectrum they've assumed all along would be theirs and theirs alone. Problematic when the Pentagon just said they weren't releasing this transmission spectrum for at least fifteen years--not to mention that both the FCC and the Commerce Department also want to keep all or part of it. And without the new spectrum, wireless data transmission is going to stay at slo-mo speed. So slow that you'll be able to visually track large packets of data dribbling into and out of your wireless device.

Yeah, I know, you can see stock prices and airline schedules in seconds. Even download your tee time. But I'm talking about business applications that handle high volumes of data that need to be moved, stored, sorted and queried. Wait a minute. What am I thinking? Of course, all that stuff will be done on the Internet. Just tell your Web site what you want, and voila. Your twenty-page spreadsheet will appear, sort of, slowly on your twenty-millimeter screen. It gives "going postal" a whole new definition--what folks do after waiting a gazillion minutes for a download only to drive themselves to violence trying to read serious data off their postage stamp screens. Got a full screen laptop? No matter. Just waiting for your data will remind you of sitting in some restaurant stewing--wondering if the kitchen is growing your dinner.

Now, it's not that I'm anti-wireless. I designed a wireless remote user system a couple of years ago, well before it was fashionable. It made sense for that particular client. But it was designed within realistic limitations of wireless technology. Whereas the "wire loose" claims of today are promising what the technology is not ready to deliver--not now, not for some time. While wireless communication is going to be a critical component of mainline CRM--someday--it ain't close to that now. Which is why I'd rate today's wireless pitch equal on the sham scale to yesterday's Internet and Web-architecture smoke screen.

Then "Why," you might reasonably ask, "are we buying it?" Especially after we've already been burned once.

Simple reason, I think. Sizzle, or lack thereof. CRM is lots more struggle than sizzle. But CRM is hot, so it's supposed to have sizzle. That's why many of us are in it. We want the sizzle--not some boring continuation of a twenty-year old, "dirty hands" effort to dig our way closer to customers. And we want it bad enough to go delusional to get it. Hey, in that state we're an easy mark for "wire loose" chefs grilling ether on hot coals.

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