- Anytime, Anywhere: Entrepreneurship and the Creation of a Wireless World
Anytime, Anywhere chronicles the explosive growth of the cellular and wireless communication industry in the 1980s and 1990s, largely through the eyes of Sam Ginn, a Bell System bureaucrat who remade himself into an innovative and aggressive entrepreneur after the Bell breakup in 1982. Ginn saw the potential of wireless telephony sooner than many of his Bell colleagues and led Pacific Telesis, once derided as the most decrepit of the Baby Bells, to a leading role in the new industry. In 1994 Ginn spun off PacTel's wireless operations to form AirTouch Communications; in 1999 he sold AirTouch to the British firm Vodafone. The next year, Vodafone merged AirTouch with Bell Atlantic to form Verizon, today the largest wireless carrier in the United States.
Louis Galambos and Eric John Abrahamson have written a story of entrepreneurship and of the critical role of the entrepreneur in driving economic growth and change. The book's principal theme lies in Ginn's efforts to combine the traditional administrative and engineering strengths of the old Bell System with the quick-acting, risk-taking style that the new world of wireless seemed to demand. To the authors, AirTouch under Ginn combined the best of both worlds and offers a model of entrepreneurship during what they call the "Third Industrial Revolution." [End Page 349]
The changing nature of global business offers a second major theme. As national markets across Europe and North America deregulated in the 1980s and 1990s, AirTouch and the wireless industry in general blazed new trails for global capitalism. Traditional multinational corporations often were outperformed by strategic partnerships between companies from different nations that leveraged foreign technology and capital with local connections and expertise.
For twenty-four of its twenty-five chapters, this book reads like a commissioned business biography, though admittedly a lively one. The style is more journalistic than scholarly, with many chapters ending in "a crisis at home," "a surprising phone call," or some similar cliff-hanger intended to produce suspense. Nothing in the text identifies the book as contract history, but the Web site of the Prologue Group, Abrahamson's business history firm, lists both AirTouch and Pacific Telesis among its corporate clients. The great strength of this approach lies in the intimate access to Ginn and other figures the authors received. Anytime, Anywhere delivers an insider's perspective. At each step we understand just what Ginn and his lieutenants were thinking, how they understood their strategic options, and why they made the decisions they did.
The weakness of this approach lies less in any authorial reluctance to criticize its subject—though Ginn does come across as remarkably prescient and evenhanded—than in the foreshortening of perspective that comes with viewing such a history almost exclusively from the AirTouch executive suite. It is obvious from the start that regulatory bodies like the Federal Communications Commission, the California Public Utility Commission, and their counterparts in other countries played a dramatic if not determining role in this history. Yet regulators are only shadowy figures in this book. Their motivations are opaque; their proclamations, "always frustrating" and "sometimes bizarre" (p. 21). Consumer behavior and technological change remain similarly mysterious. Ginn repeatedly calls his most important decisions "Alexander Graham Bell moments," but the big ideas he describes in this way are never technological innovations like Bell's telephone—they are organizational ones. Ginn's achievements in this realm are notable, but a history of the wireless industry rooted entirely in such questions can go only so far.
For these reasons, the final chapter of Anytime, Anywhere is ahappy surprise. Here, the scope of the book widens, as Galambos and Abrahamson summarize the history of the wireless world and connect that story to just the sort of broader questions absent from the chapters that have gone before. They synthesize the theories of scholars like Joseph Schumpeter, Richard Nelson, and Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., as well as...