It is one of the communication industry’s best-kept secrets. Glamorous 1940s screen star Hedy Lamarr, known as one of the great actresses and most beautiful women of her time, co-invented spread spectrum, the basis of the W-CDMA technology used in all mobile communications today. Lamarr is just one of a number of extraordinary women who have shaped the global communications industry and are stars in their own right. The contributions of women to the sector will be celebrated during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at a gala dinner organized by the Global Telecom Women’s Network (GTWN), which marks its 20th anniversary this year.
GSMA CEO Anne Bouverot will be the keynote speaker at the GTWN gala and Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, will be an honored guest. Among the attendees will be members of the group that co-founded GTWN: Janice Hughes (a co-founder of Spectrum Strategy Consultants and frequent advisor to government ministers on media and telecom issues), Candace Johnson (SES), Dr. Jessie McLeman (BT), Lillemor Larsson (Unisource), Dr. Susanne Paech and Elke Geising (Deutsche Telekom), Susan Dark (Cable & Wireless) and Laureen Cook (Satelindo). Their first meeting was at Cebit (the industry’s largest trade fair at the time, now totally usurped by the MWC) to celebrate the growing impact of women in the industry.
Over the years membership grew and GTWN’s annual breakfasts at the Mobile World Congress have attracted some of the industry’s highest flying female executives, including Qualcomm Global Development President Peggy Johnson and Xin Fanfei, vice president and executive director of China Mobile.
The GTWN is particular proud in having helped mWomen, a program that represents an unprecedented global public/private partnership between the worldwide mobile industry and the international development community to harness the power of the private sector to accelerate women's ownership of mobile phones, while partnering with the international development community to provide life changing services to underserved women.
Today the GTWN has a unique membership structure with an international steering board of 40 senior executive women from around the world who fund and organize the group’s activities, all the while mentoring the next generation of women. These include Anne Glover, cofounder and CEO of Amadeus Capital Partners, a British venture capital firm; Internet Society Chief Operating Officer Walda Roseman and Alcatel-Lucent Board Member Carla Cico — all of whom have played key roles in shaping the industry.
“More than a lobbying or a pressure group, it was and always has been a “brain trust” – a group of exceptional senior women executives who have been so successful in their own careers in telecommunications and media that they look beyond to treat and influence the issues and the trends and to mentor up-and-coming women in the industry,” says Johnson, a GTWN co-founder. “Above all, they celebrate achievements and do their best to inspire by making an impact on our industry, our society, and our planet, and serving as role models for the next generation.”
As a tribute to their contributions, the GTWN is publishing an e-book profiling some of the women who have played key roles.
Among them is Johnson. An American who helped pioneer the satellite industry on the Continent, Johnson was dubbed “The Satellady” in a 1996 Economist article. A career as a trailblazer also earned her a few other labels: she was called “the most dangerous woman in Europe” by an angry media mogul after she foiled his plans to build a cartel and “Enemy No. 1” by Germany’s Deutsche Telekom when she won a landmark case against the company for illegal subsidies of data networks.
Johnson says she has earned all of these titles over the course of a 35- year career in the tech industry by “always trying to create something new” and usually breaking monopolies in the process.
“What I am really most proud of is that I made SES (Societe Europeene des Satellites) become the world's largest satellite system at the time and the premier satellite system today and that I was able to create other companies, all of which contributed to the advancement and democratization of access to telecoms, media and Internet for the world,” says Johnson.
The book also pays tribute to Myla Villanueva, an entrepreneur behind five highly successful software and mobile companies and long-time GSMA Executive Committee member, who recently served as the eminence grise behind the Philippines direct e-elections for that country’s President.
The contributions of trailblazers on the Internet, such as Mitchell Baker, are also highlighted. A trained lawyer, Baker is the chairwoman of the open source software association behind the Firefox browser, which took on Microsoft to wrest back control of the Web.
In its heyday, Microsoft acted as a gatekeeper to the Internet, with its Internet Explorer browser having over 95% market share. Today the Internet is a different place, far more open and innovative, thanks in significant part to the efforts of Baker, who helped lead an army of tensof thousands of programmers and consumer evangelists into battle.
Netscape was sold to AOL in 1998. Its browser’s source code was made freely available to anyone who wanted to make improvements – a radically new idea at the time. The ultimate result was Firefox, a browser developed for the people, by the people, under the umbrella of what is now known as the Mozilla Foundation.
When the Firefox browser was released there was no Apple and no Google standing in Microsoft’s way of control for this critical part of Internet life — only tiny Mozilla, led by Baker.
The fight was about keeping the Internet an engine of choice and innovation as well as economic value. “The technology we use has as much impact on our freedom as laws do, and on a day-to-day basis even more so,” says Baker. “That is why it is so important to build freedom into the technology itself.”
The war is not over. Firefox may have attracted half a billion users, garnering around 20% of global market share, but new threats to the openness of the Internet are emerging. Baker’s job is to ensure that the Foundation and Mozilla Corp., the subsidiary responsible for Firefox, which she also chairs, can give consumers the right tools to keep the Internet open and interoperable.
“The same pressures to integrate the software stack for short term convenience — a trade-off that results in long term control — are with us again,” says Baker. To counteract that trend, Mozilla is developing its own mobile browser and operating system. And Baker is once again playing a key role in getting those products delivered to market.
Ann Mei Chang, who is currently a Franklin Fellow in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues in the U.S. State Department, is another industry star. Chang, a member of GTWN’s steering committee, is on a one-year leave of absence from Google, where she led engineering at Google’s mobile applications and services worldwide, including products such as search, ads, Google Mobile Maps, gmail, YouTube, Goggles and voice services across all major mobile platforms. Chang oversaw 20x growth of Google’s mobile business in just three years, delivering over $1 billion in annualized revenue.
“As the senior engineering director for mobile at Google, I was lucky to have a front row seat in the remarkable transformation of ‘super phones,’ Chang wrote in her essay for the e-book.
Hedy Lamarr would have been proud. The story of Hedy Lamarr’s patent has now been the subject of two books – one just published by Richard Rhodes and another by Rob Walters."Hedy and George's idea, first patented in 1942, was initially shunned,” Rob Walters wrote in his book Spread Spectrum: Hedy Lamarr and the Mobile Phone. “Yet, in the decades that followed, the basic principle was reinvented, refined and put to practical use in all manner of radio solutions, solutions that the inventors could never have imagined. The technique that they described is now called frequency hopping. It was before its time in the 1940s, but now has pride of place in a whole family of related solutions that are generally called – spread spectrum.”
Lamarr, who was eventually honored by the Electronic Freedom Foundation and the National Inventors Council for her invention, didn’t live to get credit for her contributions to the communications sector, but thanks in part to GTWN, the women who have carried on her work are getting their just due.