Freedom to Roam

Follow the Money

While wireless technology remains an uncertain investment for most mainstream
companies, the opposite is true in the venture capital space, where the
drive toward pervasive computing is in full throttle.

Venture investments are migrating away from tech start-ups and toward
late-stage funding of aggregated technologies, according to Udayan Gupta,
a former senior writer for the Wall Street Journal and author of
the recent book, Done Deals: Venture Capitalists Tell Their Stories.
Wireless is the ideal venture investment, he says, because it is mature
and cash-hungry enough to sop up the $10 million to 20 million most venture
capitalists are looking to spend.

“If you have $1 billion to invest, $100,000 invested in a start-up is
a rounding error,” says Gupta, who recently founded a multimedia news
and information Web site for entrepreneurs. “Wireless is almost less risky
and a great way to make the aggregation play,” he says.

full-scale drive of venture capitalists into the wireless arena is actually
good news for CIOs. Yes, it means more confusion in the short term —
more new technologies, applications, vendors, partnerships, and, of course,
more marketing hype. But it also means that IT execs can afford to sit
on the sidelines for another year or so while keeping an eye on what the
big boys are doing.

Some top-tier venture capital firms to watch, according to Gupta, are
Charles River Ventures and Patnacoff & Associates on the East Coast and
the big five on the West Coast: Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Mayfield
Fund, Accel Partners, Matrix Partners, and Sequoia Capital.

These firms are seeking to leverage synergies in telecommunications
and its extensions — “compunications,” as it used to be called in
the 1980s, says Gupta with a laugh, when people were experimenting with
new words to express the new worlds of technology they were inhabiting.
That same kind of energy and experimentation is alive today.

In addition to following the venture capital firms, technologists should
take a close look at how industry leaders are spending their research
dollars. For example, Nokia Research Center, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone
Corp., and Hewlett-Packard Co., among others, are supporting MIT’s Oxygen
project, which aims to make computing “as pervasive, free, and natural
as air.”

IT executives who follow the money will be in the best position to predict
which software and applications will win out over others, and a wireless
future will play out in their own highly specific business environments.

Wireless and
the Winds of Change

The idea of one global device and standard is “nice,” says Auld, but
it will never happen in the IT area, where systems constantly change in
the march of progress. “Businesses are always pushing for competitive
advantage and increased functionality,” he says.

platforms still immature, the short-term issues are more on the infrastructure
side than on the application side, writes Jack Gold, author of the META
Group report, “Pervasive Ergonomics 101.” He predicts that the number
of devices (Palm, PC, WAP phones, screen phones) will only increase in
the near term. Consequently, companies will have to deploy multimodal
interfaces, including full browser, microbrowser, WAP browser, voice command,
and text-to-spee