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Friday, June 4, 2010

Innovation is not just for the USA

Readers of this blog have undoubtedly been following the ongoing controversy between Jim and Steve about whether Boston or the Bay Area is the most important center for technology innovation.

Jim and Steve, what about all the innovation taking place outside of the US?

Grenoble, France, where I happen to live, is located just under three hours from Paris and, much like Boston and the Bay Area, is home to some of the nation's leading universities, medical schools, research institutions and technology companies.

According to the magazine l'Usine Nouvelle, The Grenoble Institute of Technology is the second largest engineering school in France and is second in terms of research contracts awarded. The Grenoble Graduate School of Business was the seventh best MBA program in Europe, according a 2009 Financial Times report.

Research institutions include Minalogic and Minatec for nanotechnology, NanoBio and Nano2Life for biotech and Tenerrdis and the PV Alliance for solar and other forms of renewable energy.

Technology companies in the region range from established multi-nationals such as Capgemini, HP, Radiall, Soitec, STMicroelectronics, Sun and Xerox to dynamic start-ups like H3C-energies and UShareSoft.

The great thing about innovation is that anybody anywhere can have a great idea. And, given the right environment -- world class higher education, research institutions and an dynamic economy -- great ideas become great companies creating great products.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Get Ready for 4G

Tomorrow, Sprint Nextel will be the first carrier to announce the availability of 4G wireless technology with the release of its EVO. Then in the Fall, Verizon will roll out 4G service in 25 to 30 cities, and you can bet that they’ll market the heck out of that. Much smaller MetroPCS will announce a 4G phone around the same time.

And let us not forget that Apple will announce its iPhone 4 sometime this summer, although it’s unclear if it will be built to run on a 4G network or today’s standard 3G technology.

So prepare yourself for the marketing onslaught that will no doubt be great. You can count on TV, print and online ads to tout the benefits of 4G, as well as marketing efforts targeting you directly every time you receive a bill from your wireless carrier. “If you don’t have 4G, sign up now to see what you’re missing!”

But what exactly are the advantages of 4G over 3G?

First, let’s go back a few years to look at the truly quantum leap between 2G and 3G technologies.

Back in the old days of 2G technology, you could basically use your mobile phone for two primary purposes – making phone calls and sending SMS (text) messages. That seemed to be a pretty useful thing since up to then if you wanted to place a phone call you had to be at your desk using a landline or spend thousands of dollars on a mobile phone built on old military technology.

Then 3G came along at the start of the new millennium, and suddenly phones could do really cool things like real Web browsing, video and music downloads, and take high quality photos. Another advantage of 3G was the high speed of the network and the improved coverage and quality of reception. That is unless you have AT&T or T-Mobile where 3G coverage is only available in the highly populated parts of the country. If you find yourself in upstate New York, or even Napa Valley, forget using your iPhone.

And that brings us to 4G. Basically it’s a new way for mobile phones to access the airwaves designed from the start for the transmission of data rather than simple phone calls. This is accomplished by borrowing some aspects of the latest generation of Wi-Fi, the short-range wireless technology.

What users are likely to see is slightly faster access to data and streaming video that flows a little bit better, no stuttering, and higher resolution. That’s about it. No break through applications as we saw when we moved from 2G to 3G. Oh, one other thing, it’ll cost you more.

And to muddy the marketing waters even more, AT&T and T-Mobile are upgrading their current 3G networks to provide data-transfer speeds that will be actually HIGHER than the 4G networks from Sprint and Verizon.

What’s a customer to do?

Don’t let the marketing hype get to you. Ask yourself what you really need from your mobile or smart phone and how many applications you really use. Are those applications working for you now? If so, you probably don’t need the upgrade. And if you’re an iPhone or AT&T user, the upgrades to the AT&T network will provide you with more than enough power.

I’m already waiting with bated breath for 4.5G.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Five Things Corporate Communicators Must Consider Pre- and Post-IPO

Though stronger than last year, almost six months into the year and the U.S. IPO market has been nothing to write home about.

Yesterday, Zipcar -- the Cambridge, Mass.-based car-sharing service company -- became only the 108th U.S. company to file an S-1 in 2010. Although the active IPO pipeline boasts 153 companies, it includes companies who have filed registrations or amendments with the SEC in the last two years, according to Renaissance Capital, an independent provider of IPO research. Another 18 companies recently withdrew or postponed their IPO vs. six companies who did the same by this date one year ago, also according to Renaissance.

As of this posting, Zipcar is the only U.S. company in the month of June to have registered for an IPO.  Of course, it's only June 2 so there's still plenty of time for other companies to follow suit before the next round of holiday cook outs after which time the U.S. IPO market will likely take a summer hiatus.

Filing an S-1 prior to the kick off the summer holiday fun is actually a great strategy because the mandatory "quiet period" is easier to uphold during the summer season than during other "busier" times of the year.  Perhaps it's what the communications strategists at Zipcar had in mind.

So with Zipcar's filing as a back drop, here are five things corporate communications executives must be aware of pre- and post-IPO:
  • Evaluate the company's communications capabilities.  Diverse skill sets and deep experience in navigating the pre - and post-IPO waters are required and differ greatly from the needs of a private company.
  • From the moment a company whispers a plan to file for an IPO, new rules and expectations on how it communicates kick in.  The cost of noncompliance with quite periods and other restrictions, including Regulation Fair Disclosure and Sarbanes-Oxley, could break a company's back.  Communicators must be able to build company awareness while playing within the lines.
  • Adopt a communications approach that addresses all stakeholders and encompasses all pertinent communications disciplines. 
  • Function as strategic counselors to management; help them understand what "safe" media activity is inside of pre- and post-IPO quiet periods.
  • Train company employees on the behavioral changes and expectations within a pre-IPO and newly public company.  A fully-informed employee is typically more motivated to put the needs of the company before the needs of the individual.