Telecom outfits, battered from a three-year industry downturn, are pinning their recovery hopes on wireless broadband. It's one of the sector's bright spots -- the wireless data market is growing at double-digit rates around the world (see BW Online, 10/13/03, "For Telecom, Wireless Signals Hope"). Sean Maloney, general manager of the communications group at chip giant Intel (INTC), believes that the technology could shake up some business models, just as the Internet did when it first hit the mass market.
Maloney was at the ITU Telecom World 2003, a massive trade show held every four years by the International Telecommunications Union, a global organization that coordinates telecom networks, services, and standards, which got under way Sept. 12 in Geneva. BusinessWeek Telecom editor Steve Rosenbush discussed the state of the industry with Maloney there. Edited excerpts of the interview follow:
Q: You say the rise of wireless data is going to be disruptive to certain business models. Which ones?
A: It's going to be disruptive to the people who don't take advantage of it. I think the rate of change in the telecom industry is going to...get faster. And entire vertical industries like construction and retail are going to be changed by broadband wireless.
Q: Why will wireless broadband bring these changes?
A: Industries will change because people will no longer have to go to information. Information will go to them.
Q: What's the financial outlook for the telecom sector as these changes occur?
A: Capital expenses and operating expenses will come down.
Q: Where will revenue growth come from in a leaner environment?
A: Certainly the buzz is all about broadband wireless, in one form or another.
Q: Where do other kinds of companies find growth?
A: As Wi-Fi has grown, it has created lots of new demand for local area networks for the home. People are going to want companies to help manage them, to turn to for support.
Q: Where is telecom in the business cycle right now?
A: The mood here is cautious optimism. It has bottomed out, although no one is calling it strong growth yet.