A wireless change is in the air

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For industry insiders, the feeling has become almost palpable. There’s a change coming and that change is accelerating day by day. Advertisers know it. Venture capitalists too. Entrepreneurs are pulling all-nighters in the valiant way that dreamers do when convinced that their once-in-a-lifetime chance is suddenly at hand. There’s a change in the air but I’m not sure that the companies that stand to be most impacted by the change have figured it out yet.

About now you are probably scratching your head and wondering what I am going on about, yes? Wireless. Cellular. Mobile. It really doesn’t matter what you call it, the fact is that all of a sudden mobile technology has become arguably the most important technology on earth.

Real-time communication is critical in just about every aspect of work, play, romance, or virtually anything you can think of, and only mobile telephony has the ability to connect you to just about anyone at any time and from nearly anywhere. Suddenly though, real-time communication is just the tip of the iceberg; with each passing day new developments, new technologies and new enhancements are being announced each formerly unthinkable, now available on demand.

From the ability to watch TV, play the radio or even catch a film clip to sharing your concert experience with your friends via images you are photographing and uploading, next-generation mobile devices and the networks that connect them are changing our lives in profound and expanding ways.

Suddenly we can be there without going anywhere. We have consolidated our ability to transact business, access key files, even unlock the doors to our homes and offices into this remarkable device that is rapidly becoming far more than that just a handset.

Calling today’s smart phones “mobile handsets” is a bit like calling the new F-117 Stealth fighter an airplane. They bear a casual resemblance to one another, but that’s all. If you were as close to the heart of this space as I am you’d be witness daily to a dizzying array of innovations both obvious and astonishing.

But here’s the best part: “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet!” This is just the beginning of a period of technological expansion and innovation that will make the internet bubble seem like it was blown by a 6th grader with a pack of gum.

The difference is in the need for these devices, the size of the market and the ultimate value to the various major industries that are the key participants in this global technological expansion. From my perspective there are three key groups that comprise the primary movers in this arena, with each group having many subgroups. Two of the three are easy: the carriers and the handset manufacturers. But can you guess the third?

Advertisers. With digital video recorders stamping out the advertising on network TV for millions of viewers, and pay per view and cable providing uninterrupted entertain- ment to many millions more, reaching the consumer is getting harder and harder.

Suddenly that tiny 5cm by 5cm screen has become irresistible; and for all the right reasons. The phone knows where you are (and can report this to the advertiser) the phone can know your credit limit, what’s in your bank, and tomorrow it will probably have sensors built in that will be able to determine if you’re in a shopping mood or simply want to empty that bank account of the lover that jilted you this morning but hasn’t yet un-linked your joint telephony and banking relationships.

Yes indeed. A change is in the air. You can’t hear it crackling in the wires, but if you look carefully, you can just about see the energy whizzing about and changing people’s lives.

Oliver Starr is a serial entrepreneur, executive in residence at Angel Strategies, a $300n venture capital fund and the author of www.mobile-weblog.com

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