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A Wider Net: Locker room to boardroom

Mar 22, 20044 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork Security

Ex-NFL star and U.S. Rep. Steve Largent now selling cellular to corporate America.

Nothing goes together quite like pro football and cell phones.

Just ask Joe Horn, the New Orleans Saints receiver whose choreographed cell call from the end zone after scoring a touchdown in December earned him nationwide notoriety and a $30,000 fine.

Or better yet, ask Hall of Famer Steve Largent, whose career has taken him from being one of the NFL’s leading receivers, to a seat in Congress, to the top post at the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA). Largent last fall was named president of the CTIA, a wireless industry educational and lobbying organization that holds its annual conference this week in Atlanta.

“The competitive nature of the NFL, it’s very similar to [the wireless] industry,” Largent says.

The 50-year-old Largent technically got his start in telecom while playing for the Seattle Seahawks in the early 1980s. A friend at wireless pioneer Cellular One asked Largent to pitch what was, at that time, a fledgling, expensive and cumbersome service.

“I was certainly one of the first guys on our team to have a bag phone,” Largent says.

He drilled deeper into wireless as a four-term Republican member of Congress from Oklahoma, serving on the House telecom subcommittee from 1995 to 2000.

Wireless industry players say they are impressed with Largent’s efforts in his new role.

“He obviously knows the public-policy arena from his time in Congress, and he understands the issues that are important to the wireless industry,” says Doug Brandon, vice president of federal affairs for AT&T Wireless. “He also brings a fresh perspective to the post. He is a consensus builder and known for his integrity.”

Not surprisingly, Largent says he has “one of everybody’s” wireless gadget: camera phones, PDAs, BlackBerries and a wireless LAN at his home in Washington, D.C. “My problem is I don’t have enough time during the day to read all of the manuals.”

Largent keeps his cell phone on all the time, of course. He even admits that he talks on the thing while driving (sometimes using a hands-free device), even as the CTIA tries to educate consumers on proper mobile-device etiquette and safety.

“The worst story to come out of CTIA would be for me to be in a wreck while I was using my cell phone,” he says. “So I am very cognizant of that.”

Largent’s priorities at the CTIA include extending the wireless market’s reach to more low-income and disabled people. One key to enabling the industry to expand is making sure it stays largely unshackled from a regulatory standpoint, he says.

“Every time somebody wants to roll out a new regulation in this industry, it just adds to the cost of that phone service,” Largent says.

The CTIA chief says he’s wary of too much industry consolidation.

“Consolidation is good, but not any consolidation,” Largent says. “I have some reservations about having a significant market share tied up in two companies [Verizon and AT&T Wireless/Cingular]. If our industry ever starts moving toward a sort of monopolistic structure that is not a good thing.”

He says another challenge for the industry is freeing up enough spectrum to get North American carriers to 3G. The U.S. lags behind other countries on this front.

“I don’t want to be No. 2 or 3, I want to be No. 1,'” he says. “Our responsibility is to make sure we have the spectrum necessary and the public policy in place that smooths the road and expands the wireless frontier.”

Carriers have to find ways to make money with new technology too, such as public Wi-Fi hot spots, Largent says.

“The potential exists for Wi-Fi to be an incredible complement to [cellular] wireless,” he says. “That movement toward anywhere/anytime ubiquity is what we’re seeking in the wireless world.”

All of which brings things back to Joe Horn, who has converted his cell phone celebration into an appearance at the CTIA event this week. While Largent says he never would have resorted to such theatrics on the football field, he acknowledges that the stunt served as a great promotion for wireless service.

“It’s fantastic,” he says. “Talk about ubiquitous service. We’re everywhere, even in the Superdome.”

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Managing Editor

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 28 years, 23 at Network World. He covers enterprise networking infrastructure, including routers and switches. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy and at

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