Cody Willard: Tricky connecting for a long-term commitment

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Maybe I’ve watched the Godfather one too many times, but I told Ilaria, an Italian woman I met on a recent trip to Rome, that she really should come to the US so we could get to know each other better. I sent her an e-mail, since I can’t figure out how to get her mobile phone to ring when I dial it from New York City. The language and distance barrier would be bad enough, but to complicate it further with technology barriers has me thinking my plan for finding a good Italian woman is doomed. Even when she was here, we were unable to get our cell phones to connect.

Convergence has a long way to go indeed.

I’ve used Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile at various times in the past couple of years. Verizon is the only carrier that’s been serious about upgrading its networks, spending tens of billions of dollars building the best wireless and fibre optic networks in the US. Such advanced networks are more ubiquitous in developed Europe and Asia, and the elasticity of demand for bigger, better, faster network technologies is a truth of telecom that has been proven in the marketplace for more than a century.

Sprint’s new WiMax network is an incremental improvement, but it’s not infinitely upgradeable. As bad as Sprint has been lately and as much as the stock has been trashed, I like it for a trade over the next six months or year as Wall Street will reward the improved prospects that WiMax brings to the company.

Meanwhile AT&T ignores its networks, seemingly deciding that Wall Street will punish it for planning for the future. AT&T is wrong.

Verizon is the only carrier that can be considered a viable long-term investment.

Ilaria brought two mobile phones with her. In Italy her MacBook connects via Blue Tooth to an older Nokia model from Telecom Italia that wirelessly connects to the internet. She uses a newer Nokia SmartPhone that’s not available in the US for voice calls, text messages and e-mails. But the only communicating either phone could do in the US was to send text messages to Italy.

Sitting next to Ilaria in a cab, I pulled out the gadgets I was carrying: a Verizon Blackberry 8100 that I use for my personal e-mail and phone. A new, but old-fashioned AT&T Blackberry 7200 that Fox Business gave me when I joined. And since I’d not moved my contacts from the AT&T iPhone that I hated so much when I switched back to Verizon Blackberry, the iPhone was in my pocket, too. I also had a Zune – Microsoft’s digital media player – with me as I wanted to listen to Chet Atkins while we were in Central Park.

In spite of carrying six network-enabled gadgets with us during her trip, we could not communicate together unless we were physically sitting next to each other.

The bad news is that as consumers, convergence isn’t even close to reality. That means it will be years before we can simply pull out our business card-sized gadget that is always fully connected to the internet over a wireless internet protocol broadband connection.

The good news is that as investors, convergence isn’t even close to reality. Verizon and Nokia know where the future is, and they’re both investing and building for that future. Stick with them.

No text messages, no e-mails, no phone calls, not even any baci from Ilaria. Nothing’s ever easy, that’s for sure. Not investing and certainly not dating.


The writer is a hedge fund manager at CL Willard Capital. www.cody willard.com

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