James A. Norling Jr., Motorola Inc. The old axiom "the only thing for certain is uncertainty" seems to be a good description of the current and future situation of the wireless industry or more specifically the mobile wireless infrastructure industry. Stating the obvious, we can certainly look back at where the industry has come and where it is today, but looking ahead is murky at best.
We have, over the last several years, gone from feast to mild famine. Borrowing from Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's description of the stock market in the late 1990s, we participated in what could be called an "irrational exuberance" of spectrum acquisition and network build-outs to where we now find ourselves the next day's hangover. While arguably there have been certain smaller segments of the infrastructure market that have faired well, few would argue that the cellular infrastructure segment has experienced a dramatic slow down in overall deployments. In looking back at leading industry analysts' reports published in the late 90s, most pointed to continued dramatic growth and widespread acceptance of 3G and other next generation services. Most companies involved in this build-out, from all levels of the value-chain, put in place capacity, inventory, resources and investment to make sure they were prepared for this scenario. However, since we are all excellent at analyzing what has (or has not) already occurred, it quickly became evident that dramatic changes in business plans were required to ensure continued success. Those that adapted have continued to be successful, those that did not, have, at best, struggled.
So where do we go from here? We can follow another old saying, "those that don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Meaning that while few will predict the future with 100% accuracy (at least without being incredibly lucky), the ability to adapt to market conditions will continue to be a key to future success. Closely listening to customers and watching general macro-economic conditions, consumer sentiment, global instabilities, and changes in consumer behavior will be key in aligning business plans to future realities.
What are those future realities? Again, few will know with certainty but there are fundamental underlying truths that can guide us. Humans will continue to want to communicate with each other and they will want to do so in an easy, cost-effective way. So, in my opinion, significant infrastructure spending and growth will resume. There are already encouraging signs that this is happening. While the "irrational exuberant" days may be over, there are still plenty of good times ahead for those smart companies that innovate and react quickly to the inevitable ever-changing environment.