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Wireless Nation: The Frenzied Launch of the Cellular Revolution in America Hardcover – July 3, 2001

17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

It may be hard to remember now, but until just a few years ago only an elite few could even hope to obtain a mobile phone--and the service they got, if they were fortunate enough to get any, was both technically mediocre and inordinately expensive.

That all changed in the 1980s, of course, when cellular technology began moving from experimental to ubiquitous and those clunky early car phones went the way of the Model T and telephone operator. The subsequent rush to wireless has been one of the most dynamic business stories of our time, and James B. Murray Jr. does a fine job of running it down and sorting it out in Wireless Nation.

The negotiator of some of the industry's biggest deals as chairman and managing director of Columbia Capital, Murray has had firsthand access to most of the major players in the ongoing saga, and his book benefits tremendously from the insider's perspective that these connections helped forge. It also benefits from his novelist's eye, which virtually puts readers into the center of the action with big-time participants like McCaw Cellular's Craig McCaw as well as "regular folks" like a middle-aged truck driver named Bob Pelissier who snagged one of the country's first cellular licenses.

Moving effortlessly from Newfoundland to New York and Washington state to Washington, D.C., Murray deftly chronicles the emergence of the cell phone as a worldwide business and societal phenomenon. He also offers informed speculation on its future, as emergent wireless Internet connections promise to make current technology and consumer penetration look as quaint as a black dial telephone. --Howard Rothman

From Publishers Weekly

Writing from deep (occasionally too deep) inside the boardroom, Murray who, as chairman and managing director at Columbia Capital, has put together plenty of deals for telecommunications giants like AT&T Wireless and Bell Atlantic charts the rise of the cellular business, for the most part avoiding the canned statements typical of tech histories. In part because he barely offers a snapshot of each man and his company before flashing forward to the next, the book's setting is its most intriguing element. It begins in the early 1980s, when the FCC auctioned the country's cellular phone markets, section by section, to the highest (or, often, simply the most rabid) bidder. Murray treats us to a detailed look at how a ragtag band of media upstarts (and the occasional conglomerate) often risked their futures on a new and mostly unproven technology and established a multibillion dollar industry. While 20/20 hindsight allows us to recognize what a gold mine the cellular business has become, it seemed like anything but a sure thing at the time. Murray's book is most intriguing when he leaves the inner sanctum where the deal making is relayed in detail but without much sense of perspective or drama and shows us how far cellular communications have come (e.g., as recently as 1981, only 24 people in New York could be on their cell phones at one time). Some readers may be disappointed that Murray is more interested in what happened to which company than he is in explaining the societal effects of one of the greatest technological revolutions in history.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (July 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738203912
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738203911
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,207,775 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Murray's account of the birth of the cellular telephone industry is remarkable. This is a subject I had little to no knowledge of (or interest in) and yet I found myself unable to put this book down. The story is truly incredible. The insider perspective he provides gives the reader a view into the birth of an entire industry.
Time and again he details the steps, and more often mis-steps, that led to the wireless world we live in today. As interesting as the stories of the visionaries who "got it" from the begining are, the tales of those who guessed wrong are even more incredible. Huge corporations, respected "experts," and the US government all made one wrong decision after the other, while a handful of players who figured out just how big this industry could be took incredible gambles to succeed. At the same time, every day individuals from widows to plumbers had a chance to participate, and make millions in what was essentially a government run lottery.
A riveting first hand account of the creation of an industry where billions were made and lost, and continue to be today.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Reiter on September 3, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a must-read for anyone involved in the cellular industry, and should be very interesting (and entertaining) for anyone interested in entrepreneurialism or emerging industries.
I work in the cellular industry and often hear, from those who worked in the industry in the mid-eighties, references to the "old days." While the current success of the cellular industry makes it seem as if its success was a "no-brainer," Murray makes clear that this was not the case--he does an excellent job of describing the free-wheeling, if not chaotic, beginnings of the industry, the fateful steps and mis-steps of some of the early players, and the vast uncertainty of whether the industry would ever be viable. Most memorably, he provides interesting profiles of some of the pioneers, cowboys, and charlatans that participated in the creation of America's cell-phone sector.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Joyce Schwarz on July 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
James B. Murray, Jr. tells a fascinating true-tale of the wacky, wonderful world of wireless technology. As an insider, and an early investory, Murray has access to some of the yarns of the early cellular cowboys like Craig McGraw and John Kluge. Today, almost 120 million Americans use cell phones and more are swapping wireless for their landlines every day. This is a great primer if you're in any aspect of communications. Wireless promises to touch every aspect of our lives from work to play to education to entertainment. Murray's book gives us a birds-eye view to the past and a preview to the new spectrum of the future. He includes just enough tech info and countless stories, anecdotes and personal asides to make it a quick read yet, a valuable reference tool. No one else captures the excitement of the lotteries and wireless land rush. In his acknowledgements, Murray thanks Lisa Dickey who evidently was his collaborator on the book. He says she brought to live a dry narrative. And yes, the tome is easy to read but I yearn to dial my cell phone and talk directly to Murray whose voice on the era may just be much more colorful than polished prose can reveal. If you buy just one book on the history of wireless, you should start with this one. A great complement to any office bookshelf. Joyce Schwarz, JCOM, [...] author, "Cutting the Cord: Guide to Going Wireless", fall, 2001
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By RR on June 14, 2005
Format: Paperback
Very well written book! Jim Murray does a very good job of making an interesting story as he narrates how FCC distributed valuable cellular licenses in the US in the 1980s. Also, talkes about how McCaw built his empire. I highly recommend this for somebody who loves the world of telecom. However, this book is not for somebody looking for new business ideas or trends in the industry today.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Doug Erlandson TOP 50 REVIEWER on May 27, 2013
Format: Paperback
Although the behind-the-scene account of how and why we became a nation of cellphone users may seem a bit dated, the story still intriguing, and "Wireless Nation" tells it well. Written by James Murray, an industry insider, it details the haphazard and chaotic way in which the wireless network in this country was developed, and how it came about despite the numerous missteps by both the public and the private sector. Written in an engaging and fast-moving style, Murray gives a thorough account of the industry winners and losers and how certain individuals, who were certainly industry outsiders, became wealthy as a result.

But lest we think it is merely a story, intriguing though it is, if it were nothing more, then it would simply be a piece of history. However, the story that Murray tells teaches us important lessons of what it takes to recognize an opportunity, to think outside the box, to go against the traditional wisdom, to find new ways of doing things--all of which are necessary to the entrepreneurial spirit. For in the end, the story is a testimony to American ingenuity that can make something succeed and can immeasurably alter and improve our lives, despite the well-intentioned but ultimately counterproductive rules of the government.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By James J. Lippard on February 18, 2003
Format: Paperback
Murray has written an immensely entertaining view of the development
of cellular telephone, the wrangling over FCC spectrum, the con artists
and hucksters, the visionary businessmen, the unprecedented methods
of haggling used to settle license ownership. My own background gives
me familiarity with the Internet revolution; it was quite interesting
to compare and contrast the cellular revolution with it. Those who
studied the cellular revolution were probably better able to understand
what was going to happen with the Internet than those who didn't.
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