When Russ McGuire was in Junior High School, his father would bring a TI-59 programmable calculator home from work for the weekend. Russ quickly learned how to write simple programs that only a geeky kid could appreciate, but it was enough to encourage the family to consider getting a personal computer. In 1979, Russ’ freshman year in High School, dad and son went computer shopping. They considered the TRS-80 from Radio Shack, and the Commodore PET, but settled on the Atari 400, in part because it had twice as much memory as its competitors (a whopping 8k!). Although a bit clunky, with a “membrane” keyboard, the computer came with Atari Basic that could be plugged into the ROM cartridge slot, and a cassette tape mass storage device to hold programs. Russ bought a book of “Basic Games” and started trying to get them to run on the 400, teaching himself Basic in the process.
Little did Russ realize that this early fascination with personal computers would set the stage for him consistently being ahead of world-changing technology revolutions.
Three years later, in the Fall of his senior year in High School, Russ took the one semester computer science class offered at school, still being taught using dumb monitors and a teletype dialed up to a timeshared mainframe. He aced the class and was invited by the teacher to serve as teaching assistant for the Spring semester. That Spring, the school received three NEC “personal computers” (probably NEC 8801s). Russ had the honor, along with his fellow teaching assistant, of establishing the school’s first “PC lab.” Although the IBM PC was also introduced during this school year, for some reason, the school received the soon-to-be-forgotten NECs.
Russ started his college career at the University of Florida and learned to program COBOL and Fortran using punch cards, but transferred to Virginia Tech his sophomore year, where all engineering students were required to buy an IBM PC. The PC era had finally arrived, a few years after Russ had begun to explore the potential of this revolutionary technology.
For his junior year in college, Russ studied at the University of Essex in England. As an Electronics and Computer Engineering student, Russ was introduced to Unix computers and the Internet. Although the global computer network was 15 years old, there still were only about 1,000 computers connected to it in 1984, and the tools were fairly primitive. But Russ was hooked on the ability to be connected to people and content from around the world.
After graduating from Virginia Tech, Russ continued to enjoy Internet connectivity in his first job at Northern Telecom, but when he moved to WilTel, the connection was broken. In 1991, Russ brokered a deal with UUNET that included a free T-1 Internet connection for the Williams Companies. He was back online. In those days, since the Internet backbone was federally funded (the NSFnet) the use of the Internet for commercial purposes was forbidden. Russ and his team started experimenting with how to accomplish business goals without violating the acceptable use policies. WilTel was very active in the development of the “commercial” Internet, providing bandwidth in exchange for equity in early pioneers PSInet. The first commercial Internet peering points CIX and MAE-East were also hosted in WilTel’s points-of-presence (POPs).
Russ was also using a NeXT computer because of his involvement with a major object-oriented software project reliant on the NeXT environment, when one day a new application became available for the NeXT called the WorldWideWeb. Recognizing the potential for this new medium, Russ began building a team to develop web content. In 1993 and 1994, after a several month IT-induced delay, Russ’ team introduced three major web-based projects. WilTel’s website was the first commercial website in the telecom industry (the commercial restrictions had just been lifted). The WilTel Telecom Library served as both a repository of telecom information and a Yahoo, of sorts, for all telecom-related resources on the Web (and attracted the threat of a lawsuit from Harry Newton who claimed exclusive use of the name “Telecom Library.”) They also developed, in partnership with the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, a website providing information about the city and it’s landmarks. In 1995, this collection of sites was recognized by Interactive Age magazine as one of the top 25 web properties in the world.
In addition to the Web, Russ recognized the potential of the Internet to connect together corporate sites. Since WilTel’s strongest products (Frame Relay, ATM, and Private Line) served the same purpose, Russ began challenging the company to consider the long term implications of IP networks cannibalizing these core data products. (That prediction wouldn’t come completely to fruition for about 15 years.)
In 1994, Russ, his boss Gordon Martin, and David Cordeiro, who Russ had hired to spearhead the company’s Internet initiatives, held discussions with many of the leading Internet companies, including talks of possibly acquiring UUNET, PSInet, and/or Network Solutions (administrators of the InterNIC and registrars of all domain names). However, those discussions were complicated by the eventually successful bid from LDDS to acquire WilTel.
It was clear to Russ and his co-workers that the Internet would have a tremendous impact on how we interact with the world around us and how businesses operate, so it was quite a shock when, in December 1994, WilTel’s soon to be new owner referred to the Internet as a toy and ordered the winding down of all Internet-related activities. Although, to give him credit, it wasn’t such an irrational thought. At that time, the Internet had not yet emerged in the consciousness of most Americans. 1995 would be the breakthrough year with Netscape’s $billion IPO, the incorporation of Yahoo, eBay’s first auction, and Amazon’s first sale. Even Bill Gates and Microsoft didn’t yet see the Internet as the future – they were still focused on developing Blackbird as a proprietary alternative to the Web.
Once again, Russ was ahead of a major technology revolution. You can read more about what he, Gordon, and David did about it on the Entrepreneur page on this site.
A few years later, Russ found himself serving as head of strategy for the division of Sprint focused on business customers. Sprint had long been a leader in the long distance industry, but wireless services were rapidly becoming the heart of the business, and Sprint was in the midst of a OneSprint “transformation” to integrate wireline and wireless offers for all customers. As Russ worked alongside the sales, marketing, and product teams, he began to see the next technology revolution emerging.
The rearview mirror is always helpful, so Russ had carefully considered the Digital (or PC) Revolution and the Internet Revolution. He had thought about what it was about each technology that truly revolutionized how we interact with the world around us and how businesses operate. Each of those revolutions had a “law” that helped define that core driver of change.
For the Digital Revolution, Gordon Moore, founder of Intel, had observed that computing power roughly doubled every couple of years while computing cost was cut in half. This became known as Moore’s Law, and it drove the realities that 1) it made economic sense for computing power to move out of the datacenter and onto the desktop (and eventually into everything with a power source), and 2) previously-scarce computing power would become less expensive than human brainpower, causing many forms of analysis to be simplified and even automated (e.g. the spreadsheet became the killer app for the personal computer).
The Internet broke a different barrier – it made it easy for digital data to flow across traditional boundaries. Before the Internet, it was hard to move computer information from one home to another, or from one company to another, or from one country to another. The Internet made it easy. Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet and founder of 3Com, observed that the value of any telecom network grows exponentially with the number of people connected to it. This became know as Metcalfe’s Law and drove the reality that, at some point in time there would be a data network with enough connections that it would be economically mandatory for every company and every individual to be connected to it. That point in time happened in 1995, as described above. At the beginning of 1995, Russ’ friends and co-workers thought he was crazy to quit his job and start an Internet company. By the end of 1995, everyone knew they needed an e-mail address and every company knew they needed a website.
So, as Russ considered this new “mobility revolution,” he sought to understand what barriers it would break and whether there was a law that would reflect the impact of that revolution. He found that it was a topic space that had not yet been explored and there was no existing “mobility law.” As he observed how businesses were beginning to use mobility to differentiate their business and create new value for customers (e.g. Avis’ Roaming Rapid Returns), and as he looked at new mobile versions of familiar products (e.g. cameraphones), he came to realize that mobility fundamentally and completely breaks the barrier of location. Things that could previously only happen in a specific place or a specific type of place (e.g. somewhere with a telephone line), could now happen anywhere and anytime. In 2005, he captured this as the Law of Mobility, or McGuire’s Law, which states that “the value of any product or service increases with its mobility.” This, of course, points to the economic reality that in time, every product and every service will become as mobile as feasible.
This line of thinking was very well received inside of Sprint and beyond. Russ started a blog in early 2006 which proved popular with industry thought leaders and Sprint customers (peaking at 54k unique visitors in 2011) to talk about this new mobility revolution. People started asking Russ if he would write a book for business leaders to more thoroughly explain the impact of mobility on all industries, and to provide a framework for what they needed to do to capture the power and manage the danger of this next technology revolution. Russ put together his thoughts on what such a book might look like and then worked with a literary agent to see if any publishers might be interested. Interest was high and Russ selected John Wiley & Sons to publish The Power of Mobility. The final manuscript was due to Wiley at the beginning of 2007, just before Apple introduced the iPhone.
Once again, Russ was ahead of the curve on a major technology revolution!
Russ holds three technology patents related to the Mobility Revolution:
- US 8,244,832 Providing Location Information to Website Providers
- US 8,166,189 Click Stream Insertions
- US 8,126,129 Adaptive Audio Conferencing Based on Participant Location
- US 9,880,799 Extendable Display Screens of Electronic Devices
Russ is anxiously watching as the next wave of revolutionary change is even now beginning to build. Stay tuned!