Thursday, February 14, 2008

Back from 3GSM Mobile World Congress

Back from Barcelona, after a terribly intense 3GSM. This was my third, and the first in which I was actually participating rather than just reporting; I feel the need to decompress, my feet hurt, and I'm feeling the effects of eating breakfast at 5pm, covering every game in town, and finally dining (or rather lunching) in the lates. First, an amusing photo:

"White/Red Whine", indeed. If they could actually serve you white or red whine, it would probably go something like "bloody conferences, full of idiots, run off your feet, fucking airports, sod Iberia..." Naturally, we all love it and wouldn't miss it for the world, as J.K. Galbraith said about his academic colleagues and testifying to Senate committees. I've said before that Galbraith's shades are everywhere in telecoms; not really capitalism but the daddy of all technostructures, a planned economy run by an engineer-bureaucratic complex.

3GSM is changing, a bit; there are a few cackling hackers around, and ridiculous hipster-dressed 16-stone US techbloggers ogling the shiny gadgets. Fortunately I don't have to talk to these; there are rewards for specialising in core networks, where everyone is a Swedish suit, and this is one of them. Only the really serious few care, such as Zygmunt Lozinski, or my colleagues at Telco 2.0.

The Telco 2.0 board - Simon Torrance, Martin Geddes, Chris Barraclough

By the way, I learned this week that IBM management lets you off wearing a blue shirt if you're in an immersive virtual environment; a detail worthy of the late Douglas Adams (who once addressed the conference, some years ago) or Charlie Stross. Speaking of Charlie, 3GSM always makes me feel like one of his characters - the European and Asian domination, the sci-fi gadgetry, the disorientation. And this week I ran into an actual implementation of one of the applications used in Halting State.

I'd dropped in to speak to Roger Quayle of NextWave (IPWireless as was); we discussed their big mobile-TV contract in the UK and also the single IP radio network they've done for the emergency services of New York City. The NYFD has a geographical database of architects' plans for every building in town. Now, their commanders have the use of a touchscreen-covered table on which they can view the map, display the plans in 3D, and the location of their engines; as they sketch out a plan on it, the details are synchronised over the air with PDAs carried by the fire crews. If that's not pretty close to CopSpace, I don't know what is; and Nokia is doing most of the other features it had in the book. Quayle denies being inspired by SF; but the application was actually developed at Northrop-Grumman, so who knows?

Regarding Europeans and Asians, it struck me that the architectural language of the show was telling; some of the US companies seemed to be trying to hide from the future, retreating into banal shapes and pastel colours with an odd but significant desert-cam tinge. Nokia and Huawei, by contrast, chose to display themselves in what looked like Ballardian advertisements for modernity itself. Curiously, I notice, green-tech motifs have entered the visual language of boosterism; Huawei's main ad motif is a gaggle of honking gurt wind turbines. (Contrastingly, IBM chose not to have a grand statement in ply and lighting; just dozens of engineers and some interesting projects.)

With all this, paranoia is inevitable. At the Intel WiMAX division's party, German security men scoured the bushes with flashlights; the conference organisers warned everyone to remove their badges so as not to mark themselves out as potential marks. After all, not only did they show that the bearer was probably a foreigner with a laptop, but also which ones were the highest-value targets. They also, however, handed out delegate bags with huge ZTE logos, so every evening saw the spectacle of thousands of delegates removing their badges at the entrance to the metro and placing the ZTE bags. It even got me; Huawei and Orange gave away hundreds of HSDPA USB modems, and trying mine out (I'll report on using it under linux), suddenly a bug occurred; it went to full uplink capacity over 500KBits/s (great advert for, although my own netstats showed no outgoing traffic. I thought, ah, they've handed these out, and now they're uplinking the contents of everyone's hard disk to some devilish spookfarm in their Shenzhen bunker!

Does it offend you, yeah? You think that was unsettling; nothing compared to strolling along the Avenida Reina Maria Cristina and hearing a familiar voice, looking up, and seeing the likeness of our MD at Telco 2.0, Chris Barraclough, twenty feet high, on a monster truck-mounted video screen and live television, speaking in a voice amplified like hell in stereo. Reality itself is too twisted, said Hunter S. Thompson, on a similar subject.


Anonymous said...

I learned this week that IBM management lets you off wearing a blue shirt if you're in an immersive virtual environment

I wrote a column once, years back, about what I imagined to be the IBM dress code ("If the pattern of the tie incorporates cartoon characters, the IBMer is a 'Maverick' and should be approached with care.") Truth, fiction, etc.

ejh said...

Ah...if you don't mind my asking, were there any women there? I saw a long report on the news and I didn't see any. I think there's one in your third photo, but she might just be walking past....

Alex said...

Heh. There seemed to be more this year, but it's still almost depressingly male. Really, the platonic ideal of a 3GSM delegate is a 15-stone Swedish or British radio engineer called Jonas or Steve, in a baggy suit.

The GSMA invited Isabella Rosselini to this one, and there are some very smart women around like Margaret Rice-Jones from Aircom or Lucy Lombardi from TIM, but as Lenin so wisely said, quantity has a quality all of its own:-)

ejh said...

I mean it compares unfavourably to the average chess tournament* and given that the average chess tournament compares unfavourably to the average football match...

[* = except correspondence chess - in which I have played one woman ever.

As far as I know.]

Simon Fawthrop said...

Did you get in to the WiMAX Vs LTE debate? It got the FT excited during the week but I haven't seen much else.

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