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Monday, August 09, 2004It took decades for an old technology called mobile telephony to take off. But it did take off—and changed the way the world communicates.Wireless is now a $325 billion industry that has altered the way many people around the world communicate and even behave. Scientists at AT&T's Bell Labs first came up with the cellular concept in 1947—back when black-and-white TV was considered a hot technologyA complex, world-shifting technology like mobile telephony doesn't just up and shift the world. These things take time—not to mention imagination, luck, governmental forbearance, great gobs of money, and tremendous effort on the part of countless engineers and entrepreneurs. The story of cellphones is an object lesson in how technological change unfolds unpredictably, even when fostered by the finest business minds.Today cellphones seem as ubiquitous as the air that carries our calls. In the past six years wireless users in the U.S. have tripled, to more than 158 million. Americans have adopted wireless phones at a faster rate than we embraced such must-haves as color TVs, cable, and PCs. We truly have become an unwired society, talking and messaging at a rate of nearly a trillion untethered minutes a year.Cellphones didn't just change the way we communicate with one another—they changed our behavior.In fast-growing, emerging countries such as China and India, consumers have bypassed land-line technology altogether, favoring ultracheap (almost disposable) "pop" phones.
It gets cooler: The same networks you use to talk and send text messages will eventually handle movies and videoconferences. TVs and CD players can be hooked up to wireless networks, transforming the way people get their entertainment. Soon you'll be able to use your cellphone to call your wireless-enabled fridge to see if you need to buy more milk.Entrepreneurs, engineers, and investors all are looking for ways to ride the next wireless revolution. |
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