Anytime, Anywhere: Entrepreneurship and the Creation of a Wireless World

Louis Galambos

Eric John Abrahamson

What do Alexander Graham Bell, American sprinter Carl Lewis, and Sam Ginn, a Bell-head turned entrepreneur, have in common? According to the authors of Anytime, Anywhere: Entrepreneurship and the Creation of a Wireless World, these men typify heroic entrepreneurs who achieved success in their respective endeavours by being competitive, committed, and willing to take risks. Galambos & Abrahamson link these men briefly in their opening chapter, entitled "The Race," by recounting how Ginn experienced an Alexander Graham Bell moment (p. 4 ) of epiphany about the potential of a global wireless industry while attending the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Ginn used, and then invited other spectators to try, his $3500 Motorola mobile telephone while they watched Lewis prepare to win one of four gold medals he would earn during those Games. People were astounded that "the brick" actually worked. The race and spectre of Olympic champions are well suited but overused metaphors in this gregarious corporate history of Pacific Telesis, a California-based "Baby Bell" that was created in 1984 and headed up by Ginn following the breakup of "Ma Bell."

Racing is also an appropriate metaphor for the dash to publish on the subject of mobile communication that now seems to be under way. Though two decades have passed since the mobile telephone was launched commercially, two types of studies have emerged only recently. Each is represented, respectively, by Perpetual Contact: Media Communication, Private Talk, Public Performance and Anytime, Anywhere. The former is a collection of studies on interactional aspects of mobile phone use, namely its impact on public behaviour, group dynamics, social relations, and personal identity. The latter focuses on the political, economic, regulatory, and technological aspects of mobile communication in order to spin a narrative of one wireless business, its CEO, and transformations in American and global wireless industries.

Anytime, Anywhere was commissioned by Sam Ginn from the Prologue Group, a Maryland-based consultancy that specializes in writing corporate histories. Its enthusiastic authors, Galambos & Abrahamson, are historians at Johns Hopkins University and with the Group, respectively. One can only assume that Ginn was pleased with this history compiled from archival research and numerous original interviews with key players in the industry or it might not have been published. It tells the story of how, by the time of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Ginn had transformed PacTel into AirTouch, a small but key player in the global wireless industry, and how, just prior to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, he made his employees into millionaires by buying PacTel stock for them before the company was acquired by the British company Vodafone in a deal worth more than $60 billion.

Anytime, Anywhere is also the story of how Ginn created this success by transforming himself from a cautious executive trained in the conservative Bell system (and, consequently, nicknamed "the iceman" by his staff) to a beloved company patriarch and a risk-taking entrepreneur who did not shy away from battles with regulatory agencies, competitors, business partners, stockbrokers, and journalists. The book is meant to be an enviable corporate history, a lesson in "Schumpeterian entrepreneurship," and the inspiring biography of a "wireless pioneer." It is wayward on all counts.

Galambos & Abrahamson begin by positing that Ginn epitomizes economist Joseph Schumpeter's notion that bureaucracy is the enemy of the entrepreneur because it stifles "creative transformation." They conclude, however, that Ginn is not a Schumpeterian entrepreneur but rather a new type of entrepreneur who succeeded in spite of his propensity for mixing the controlled Bell way of doing things with the rapid response of a true heroic entrepreneur such as Craig McCaw, who Galambos & Abrahamson depict as Ginn's main rival. McCaw earned a mythical reputation following his brazen foray into the wireless industry from cable TV in the 1980s. He was nicknamed "the king of cellular" (Corr, 2000, p. 8). McCaw's story, which unfolded during the heady days of deregulation and liberalization, led by Ronald Reagan in the U.S. and Margaret Thatcher in the U.K., is already documented in Corr's book Money from Thin Air: The Story of Craig McCaw, the Visionary Who Invented the Cell Phone Industry, and His Next Billion-dollar Idea (2000) and in Wireless Nation: The Frenzied Launch of the Cellular Revolution in America (Murray, 2001). Ginn gets only glancing mention in the latter book and no mention in the first.

What these books and Anytime, Anywhere demonstrate is that numerous people played key roles in shaping the global wireless industry. So, rather than illuminating, as Galambos and Abrahamson state, how PacTel and the wireless industry served as the "proving ground" for the concept of global competition in telecommunications, Anytime, Anywhere mostly reflects the authors' enthusiasm for capitalism, deregulation, privatization, and their client, Ginn. Although they provide fascinating backroom details of the many mergers and acquisitions that have occurred in the global wireless industry over the past decade, this book is really just unabashed business boosterism. The authors conclude their 23 short chapters by predicting that with the merger of Vodafone and Mannesmann in 2000, which created the largest wireless business in the world, "the drift is still toward competition in relatively open, global markets. The resulting global oligopolies will be hard for many citizens in democracies to accept, but they are likely to find that outcome more tolerable than the economic price of resistance to innovation" (p. 260).

Rather than chronicling the culture of an organization and championing capitalism as the best form of political economy, the goal of the authors whose studies are collected in Perpetual Contact is to assess how the mobile phone has been made meaningful through people's use and representation of it in the domestic and work realms of Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Israel, Italy, France, the U.S., Korea, and the Philippines. The authors of the 19 short papers in the collection, which emerged from a workshop held at Rutgers University in December 1999, include wireless-industry researchers, communication scholars, sociologists, and engineers. While the editors provide clear introductions for each of the book's three sections, entitled, respectively, "Mobile Communication: National and Comparative Perspectives,""Private Talk: Interpersonal Relations and Micro-behavior," and "Public Performance: Social Groups and Structures," they do not explain in their main introduction why they divided up the studies. There are many overlaps across the three sections, particularly in the few studies that focus on mobile phone use by teens.

As a result of the diverse mix of scholars who contributed to Perpetual Contact, the theories and methods that guide these studies are diverse. The work of Erving Goffman on social interaction, Walter Ong on orality, Jürgen Habermas on the public sphere, and Wolfgang Schivelbusch on mobility and modernity receives prominent mention. Methods include textual analysis of advertisements, interpretation of industry statistics and surveys, conversation analysis of calls, interviews with users, and discourse analysis of rumours and tall tales. The authors all conclude that mobile phone use has had some sort of measurable or observable impact on everyday life that is linked to the specific cultural context being analyzed. For example, in Finland, "a mobile culture," Jukka-Pekka Puro uses industry statistics, Goffman's theories, and anecdotal evidence to conclude that mobile phone use sometimes seems like an "autistic form of public behaviour," because in Finland it has long been considered culturally inappropriate to break the silence with idle chatter in either intimate or public settings. Amit Schejter and Akiba Cohen rely on Ministry of Communication statistics and anecdotal evidence to conclude in their study, "Israel: Chutzpah and Chatter in the Holy Land," that Israelis tolerate and embrace mobile phone use because they are security conscious and because of particular cultural traits, including "their need to be connected, their need to chatter and their basic audacious (chutzpadic) temperament" (p. 38).

Conclusions such as the latter illuminate both the strengths and weaknesses of this collection. Because it is difficult to assess one's own national culture and the place of the mobile phone in the nation's moral economy, many of these studies tend toward generalizations or stereotypes. However, for those interested in social and cultural aspects of mobile communication, the studies in Perpetual Contact are insightful and exciting because one gets a sense of how scholars are using and redefining key communication concepts, including public and private, mobility, symbolic capital, the everyday, and affect. In the race to publish on mobile communication, Anytime, Anywhere and Perpetual Contact are neither the first nor the best books so far, but they are both useful contributions to this emergent area of study.

References

Corr, O. Casey. (2000). Money from thin air: The story of Craig McCaw, the visionary who invented the cell phone industry, and his next billion-dollar idea. New York: Crown Publishers.

Murray, James B., Jr. (2001). Wireless nation: The frenzied launch of the cellular revolution in America. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.



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