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Perhaps the organizers of the Wireless World Summit in London were a bit overambitious but they did, honestly, try to attract the people who mattered.

So who do you think was missing?

It wasn’t the mobile operators. They were there: T-Mobile, Hutchison “3,” mmO2, and BT Mobile, for example—and we’re talking CEO-level delegates.

Nor were we missing the new wireless operators. BT Openzone was there, claiming to be Europe’s biggest. T-Mobile claimed to be the biggest “worldwide,” with more than 2,000 hot spots. Even niche contributors such as Hotspot Directory had a presence.

We had the big corporate types such as the head of IBM’s Pervasive Computing services in EMEA group, various consultants and content providers, too.

So, who is missing from this picture?

Let’s make it an easy puzzle. Imagine that this, instead of being wireless data, was actually a mobile phone seminar. Who would have been present? Who are the big players in that field who aren’t here?

As soon as you think about who would be sitting at the banquet table for a phone seminar, the names pop out: Carphone Warehouse, Fones4U, and any of a dozen retail chains. Yes, there is no channel here.

A distribution channel isn’t a few networking specialists who happen to do a few bits of Wi-Fi if you ask them to add Wi-Fi to the real thing. It isn’t a few system administrators who install an access point, cash the check, and evaporate. It’s not even a couple of intelligent or plausible startups who have dazzled Wall Street and the Bourse with inflated predictions of what their market share will be in 2010.

Instead, the channel will be a group of specialist Wi-Fi and 3G systems integrators who sell through large distribution companies to a new generation of retailers and systems installation service providers.

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When there’s a channel, you can do deals with the channel operators. You can sell franchises. You can swap services. You can cross-license technology. Your customers walk into a single outlet and purchase a single product; the deals that make it a single product are hidden from them.

We aren’t there. If you want Wi-Fi, you have a choice. You go to a warehouse and purchase the components. You assemble them in the right order and jump on them until they work. Or—this is your choice—you go without.

When this sort of convention has more channel people than pioneers, it will, of course, be much more boring. But it will be the sign that it all works.

for more columns by Guy Kewney.

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