Friday, September 22, 2000

The Cyber Scene in Seattle ~ by Larry Sivitz and Soula Jones

 Need a laugh? Check out, where you'll see people
disguised as giant cell phones separating users from their precious
handsets. To really make a dent in usage, however, those blokes would
have to stop traffic, literally: 70% of cell-phone calls in the U.S.
originate in cars.

That's one of the juicy tidbits thrown out at Seattle Online
Network's "Wireless Internet Panel" last Tuesday, at the 1960s-brick
and mortar-style Shilshole Bay Club in Ballard. All parking spaces
and seats were taken by the more than 300 people who attended the
event, many of them intrigued by the possibility of making their
company's web content accessible to cell phones. In the audience were
developers and marketers from ThinkView, RealNetworks, VoiceStream,, you name it. The place was packed. Drinks were relatively
"cheap" ($4 for a beer), and appetizers good and plenty (served by
authorized personnel).

Special guest was Jonathan Roberts, one of the founders of Ignition
Corp., basically a group of wealthy former execs from Microsoft and
McCaw Cellular looking to invest in 25 wireless Internet companies in
the next three years (so far, they've lent their money and collective
brain power to six.) Roberts asked more questions than he or any of
other panelists answered, which underscores the great uncertainty
surrounding the future of this nascent industry. "Who owns the
customer?" "Are the carriers a dumb or smart pipe?" "What's the
customer's identity--his email address or cell phone number? "What
will become the operating system?" Roberts did stress the importance
of strategic partnerships and alliances in this sector. A lot of
companies' products will have to work together seamlessly to
effectively deliver the Internet to handheld devices, he said.

The panel speakers included: Ken Arneson, President/CEO of Seattle's
Xypoint, a wireless locator service, and Sarah Van Dyck, VP Marketing
at eTrieve, which allows cell phones to receive email messages.
ETrieve is one of the companies that Ignition Corp. has invested in,
and listening to Van Dyck, one understands why.

Most interesting panelist: Rika Nakazawa of The Web Connection, a
web-dev firm with strong ties to Asia. Rika said that millions of
Japanese consumers are paying the equivalent of $1 a month to put a
screen saver on their cell phones. Now there's a good business! She
warned, however, that Japan is a "pedestrian" society (people don't
drive much), and that we should not extrapolate from their experience
too much. Rika also said that in Japan, cell-phone subs are billed by
the phone companies for any Internet-related services that they tap
into, which is good news for companies like Seattle's eCharge and its
NetPhone account.

Will instant-messaging via cell phones become a craze here like it is
in Europe and Asia? First of all, we don't yet have the tech to send
and receive messages, one of the panelists pointed out. Panel
moderator was Steve Oroszlan, Director of Communication Services at