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Managing Editor

Reach out and touchdown someone

Mar 25, 20044 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Don't spike that cell phone, say ex-NFLer and CTIA prez Largent

Nothing quite goes together like pro football and cell phones.

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

Or better yet, ask NFL Hall of Famer Steve Largent, whose career has taken him from being one of pro football’s all-time leading receivers to a seat in Congress for his home state of Oklahoma, to the top post at the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA). Largent was named president of the CTIA last fall.

How does a Hall of Fame career in the NFL lead one to the top office of a telecom industry association? It’s not as far-fetched as one might think.

Largent was a spokesman for Cellular One in the early 1980s while playing for the Seattle Seahawks. A friend of Largent’s was a “pioneer” at the company, and he asked the Seahawks receiver to pitch what was, at that time, a fledgling, expensive and cumbersome service.

That was his first exposure to wireless. He drilled deeper into it as a determined Conservative member of Congress from 1994 to 2002, serving on the House telecom subcommittee from 1995 to 2000.

Industry players seem ready to play ball with the football legend.

“The wireless industry is becoming a whole new and exciting ballgame,” quips John Muleta, director of the regulator’s wireless bureau. “We are pleased to see that there has been such a smooth hand-off and that the new quarterback at CTIA has gotten into the game so quickly.”

Says Luisa Lancetti, vice president of wireless regulatory affairs at Sprint PCS: “He has an unusual background and he comes at a time of challenge for the industry. As wireless becomes more ubiquitous and an everyday part of life there’s more interest in regulation and rules, and from our perspective the services and the benefits have largely been due to competition. For us, regulation at the state or federal level would not be a helpful thing, and would in fact burden operations, increase costs and be bad for consumers. As far as Steve’s view, he is a very effective communicator and he brings a new perspective to these issues that we all can benefit from. He (has) so far shown himself to be effective at learning the issues and leading on behalf of the industry, advocating our interests.”

Largent also leads by example. He says he has “one of everybody’s” wireless gadget: camera phones, PDAs, Blackberry’s, even 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,” he says.

Largent keeps his cell phone on all the time for business and to stay in constant contact with his wife and four children. He even admits that he talks on the cell phone while driving, sometimes using a hands-free device.

While many consider this perhaps the most egregious of the cardinal sins of cell phone etiquette, Largent says he’s careful.

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

So is his organization. The CTIA developed several programs to educate consumers on the proper use and safety guidelines of cell phones and other mobile wireless technology.

The CTIA also has initiatives underway to expand the wireless market to the underserved, the lower income, and the disabled and disadvantaged. Indeed, these are some of Largent’s chief priorities.

Another is to help carriers find ways to make money with this new technology, which is one of the current challenges facing public Wi-Fi hot spot buildouts, Largent notes. Hot spots are popular thus far with the twenty-somethings, he says, but beyond that, success is limited.

“I do think that the potential exists for Wi-Fi to be an incredible complement to wireless,” Largent says. “That movement towards anywhere/anytime ubiquity that we’re trying to seek in the wireless world.”

That’s where Joe Horn comes in. Though Largent says he would not have done the same thing if he were playing today, Horn’s cell phone celebration stunt could be an extra point for the wireless industry.

It was such a plug for the unplugged that CTIA is bringing Horn to its annual conference this week in Atlanta.

“It was great for us,” Largent exclaims. “It’s fantastic. Talk about ubiquitous service. We’re everywhere, even in the Superdome.”

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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