Net technology dominates telecom show

Thursday, June 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA - Plain old telephone calls were the last thing on anybody's agenda at the communications industry's largest trade show.

This industry has so moved on.

At Supercomm 2000, which began Tuesday, it's all about the Internet. Over phone lines and through the airwaves, giant manufacturers and niche-focused start-ups vied to show how their products carry more data at higher speeds and with richer features than those of their rivals.

Major local, long-distance and wireless phone companies are looking closely, and they'll spend billions over the next several years to modify their networks to provide applications users may not even know they'll want.

The trade show is expected to draw 60,000 people, including a large presence from North Texas' telecommunications giants, including Alcatel, Nortel Networks, Ericsson and Nokia.

Among the announcements Tuesday, Nortel said it will re-enter the submarine cable system business, competing against Alcatel, which bought Nortel's submarine unit five years ago.

And Wednesday, Nortel, IBM Corp., Toshiba Corp., Hitachi Ltd., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. and other large manufacturing companies plan to announce they're joining together to create one of the world's largest business-to-business Internet marketplaces. The network, called, is expected to be launched in mid-July.

Companies will buy and sell electronics equipment over the network, saving up to 20 percent when they use the automated purchasing system.

Before his convention-opening speech Tuesday morning, AT&T Wireless Group chief executive officer John D. Zeglis passed out small Lego kits to make the point that it was up to the people in the audience to define the applications that will ultimately bridge wireless technology and the Internet.

He and other industry leaders are beginning to set priorities, though. No. 1: Cutting-edge communications technology should be simple enough that regular users can figure it out - "post-nerd technology," Mr. Zeglis called it.

Mr. Zeglis demonstrated how he types e-mail messages with his thumbs on a mobile phone's keypad. Responding from the road helps him manage a hectic schedule, so he doesn't mind much that he has to hit the "3" key three times to type a "C."

Built-in software that guesses the spelling of common words has helped, but the executive is looking forward to the day when a small phone screen contains a more familiar keyboard or when he can dictate his e-mail into a phone using voice commands.

Similarly, Mr. Zeglis says, while he can choose a restaurant easily on the Internet-capable phones AT&T Wireless recently began selling, the technology will be more valuable a few years from now, when phones automatically know where users are. "I don't like inserting my location," Mr. Zeglis said.

Another priority of industry leaders: New technology should be widely available in developing countries.

"One of the great challenges that we all face is making sure we can extend the benefits of this technology around the world," Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Kennard said.

The FCC is working with selected countries to help them develop regulations that will increase competition and availability of advanced communications services, Mr. Kennard said. Among the nations identified as catalysts for change are Uganda, Ghana, South Africa, Argentina and Peru, he said, adding that the agency will select Asian countries to work with in the coming months.