Wireless Expert Daniel Scuka
|This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P.,
has an exclusive interview with Daniel Scuka. Daniel
is a leading international expert in wireless
Internet and i-mode technologies. Daniel is a
freelance writer and senior contributing editor for
J@pan Inc magazine (www.japaninc.com) where he
covers wireless business and technology,
entrepreneurship, tech ventures, and
Congratulations also go out to Stephen who has been
recognized as the 2002 Best Networking Professional
– Career Achievement at the Network Professional Association’s (NPA) inaugural Award’s for
Professionalism. These awards were presented at a
ceremony at Networld+ Interop 2002, which took place
at noon, May 8, 2002 at the Las Vegas Convention
Good work Stephen!
Q: Daniel, you are one of the top Japan wireless
industry observers, and this is a unique opportunity
for us. Thank you for agreeing to this interview and
for sharing your experiences and accumulated
knowledge with our readers.
A: Thanks for setting up the interview.
Q: You received your education at Canada’s Royal
Military College. What did you study and where did
you career lead you while in the Canadian Forces?
A: I obtained a B.Sc degree in Math and Physics.
Since RMC is primarily an engineering school, we
science students took a lot of undergrad engineering
courses -- like strength of materials (we called it
"S & M") -- as well. After graduation in 1986, I
spent two years training new recruits in Canada,
then spent four years in Germany stationed at one of
Canada's NATO bases. From 1992-94, I worked at
defense headquarters in Ottawa as a maintenance
staff officer, and I spent a lot of time visiting
deployed contingents in places like Somalia,
Yugoslavia, and Cyprus. The work was always
interesting and I was often surprised to see how the
army can push even heavy-duty equipment -- like
armored vehicles, rugged communications gear, and
weapons -- way past design limits.
Q: Can you share a story or interesting [perhaps
life changing] lesson that you learned from your
days in the Forces?
A: The army taught me to always push myself a little
harder and a little further than I thought possible,
and to make use of experts for specialized knowledge
since it's impossible to know everything about a
particular field of technology yourself. Also, that
oral and written communication skills are key, since
no matter what field of work you're in -- military
or civilian -- the people who succeed most also
communicate their ideas the best. I guess that was a
life-changing realization since that's what sparked
my present interest in writing, researching, and
journalism. Also, I met my then-future wife while
stationed in Germany, so that was pretty
life-changing in a very positive way.
Q: Why did you move to Tokyo in 1994? Can you
describe your time as a freelance patent engineer?
A: I moved to Japan with my wife, who is from the US
and was hired to teach at an elementary school on
one of the US bases near Tokyo.
My work as a patent engineer was a wonderful blend
of technical communications, learning about
ultra-new technology, and utilizing my
native-English skills (since I spoke no Japanese at
the time). I worked for several attorneys who had
extensive foreign practices -- they would work with
attorneys overseas to file patent applications for
large Japanese corporate clients in the US, Canada,
Europe, and elsewhere. The specifications had to be
in idiomatically correct English, and I helped make
sure that nothing of inventive value got left out of
the translation. I also helped the attorneys respond
to prosecution reports and rejections from the
overseas patent offices.
At the time, the attorneys I worked for did a lot of
work on control systems, optical-based computer
peripherals, and software. One attorney I worked for
helped file several patents related to Honda's
ultra-low emission technology, which has
subsequently been commercialized in Acura cars and
light trucks, among other models (Honda sold about
980,000 ULEV vehicles in the US in 2002).
Q: Later you worked for Fuji Xerox. What did you
learn from the experience? Do you have any tips to
A: My goals in moving to Fuji Xerox -- actually,
Fuji Xerox Careernet, a temp staff dispatch agency
wholly owned by FX -- were to learn business-level
Japanese and to experience working in corporate
Japan. The first goal I achieved, more or less,
although I'm still trying to learn more language all
the time. For the second goal, I guess I had an
intensive immersion course! Ironically, I found that
working in a Japanese company isn't altogether
different from serving in the Canadian army. There
is a rigid, seniority-based hierarchy, everyone
stands up when the president walks in the room (just
like when a colonel walks in), and there is a lot of
team and small group activity; almost no one works
on their own. I worked in the in-house translation
section, doing quality control on all types of FX
documentation, from sales and marketing
presentations to user manuals and maintenance
In Japan, if you go out drinking and socializing
with your workmates after work, it's perfectly OK to
show up to the office the next morning several hours
late nursing a hangover -- it's considered a valid
part of corporate team bonding. I guess old
traditions die hard here.
Q: What led you to J@pan Inc magazine? Can you share
with us some interesting stories that you covered?
A: In late 1998 FX was cutting the number of new
products it brought to market each year, so
translation work was falling off. I started looking
around for a new job more related to journalism or
writing, and found that the publisher of an
English-language computer magazine – “Computing
Japan” – was looking for a new editor. In February
1999, I applied, and they decided to take a risk on
me. CJ was a 50-or-so-page monthly that was then 4
years old, and the publisher wanted to refocus the
magazine on the emerging Internet and dot-com space,
so in November 1999 we printed the first issue of
J@pan Inc. I helped rebrand and repackage the
content, as well as look for new staff, including a
new editor-in-chief (we hired an ex-Wired editor out
of San Francisco) and an associate publisher.
JI has been a fun magazine to work on. It covers the
Internet, technology, e-business, new ventures, and
finance space, and there’s a lot going on in Japan
that merits coverage. There are also a lot of
misconceptions outside Japan about what goes on
here, so JI tries hard to tell the real story. Sure,
the banks are in trouble and the economy is
stagnant, but there’s tremendous innovation and
success happening, particularly related to the Net,
wireless, broadband, software, biotech, nanotech,
The magazine went through a tough time in late 2001,
however, with the general drying-up of ad revenues
everywhere, and the publisher cut the staff quite
radically. While my job was secure (sort of…), I
thought it would be a good time to move to full-time
freelancing, which I did in October 2001. I’m now
writing for Japanese, European, and US publications
as well as JI.
JI has developed a small but loyal group of readers
who are looking at Japan as a place that they or
their company wants to do business, and they want to
separate the hype (both positive and negative) from
the reality. There’s also a Web site (www.japaninc.com)
and several weekly email newsletters covering tech
gadgets, music media, wireless, and general
Q: You edit a weekly newsletter on the wireless
Internet. Please talk more about this new venture.
A: In mid-2000, it was becoming obvious that NTT
DoCoMo’s I-mode was becoming a real killer
phenomenon, so we ran several stories covering the
wireless Internet. I did most of the research and
writing, so I sort of got interested at an early
stage. The wireless Web in Japan is a fascinating
blend of big business, very high technology, the
Internet, and social transformation.
By March 2001, there was news coming up everyday
that we wanted to cover in JI, but couldn’t since it
is a monthly with a long lead-time. The editor in
chief, Steve Mollman, suggested that I start a
weekly email newsletter that would extract the most
interesting news and provide my commentary. I’ve
followed that same format from the start, although a
lot of my comments come from smart people in the
business here who are the real insiders.
We’ve only ever promoted Wireless Watch on our own
Web site, and so it’s been a pleasure to see the
subscriber list grow organically to over 2,300
today. Also, In January this year, I started
producing a weekly video newsmagazine that we
webcast each Monday. It also covers the business of
wireless in Japan, and you can see the current
program and archives at www.video-link.com/wireless/index.asp.
Q: What advice would you give to others considering
relocating to Japan? Share with us a few stories of
your experiences - culture shock?
A: You have to give it a solid 12 months before you
can even start to decide whether life in Japan is
for you. Everything is so different here that it’s
hard to point out just several things to think about
before relocating. I guess the key thing is that if
you do decide to move to Japan – or any other
foreign country – to live and work for a while,
don’t just hang around the malls once you get here
(there). Get out, meet people, and experience the
life, culture, and customs, otherwise you’ll miss
the best part of the expat experience. Some of the
best times I’ve had in Japan have been far outside
Tokyo soaking in a hot spring under the stars – and
it doesn’t matter if you don’t speak the language.
And people here have treated me with unfailing
kindness and help (except for some of the drivers).
Q: You are a co-author of the book, i-Mode
Developer’s Guide, published by Addison Wesley. Can
you describe your involvement with the book? What
useful tips can you share with us?
A: I wrote four chapters dealing with wireless
networks in general, the NTT DoCoMo i-mode network
architecture, how the wireless Web in Japan works
compared to, say, the WAP-based systems in Europe,
and future services. The wireless Internet is one
area of technology and business that changes at a
tremendous pace. If you really want to understand
what’s happening, you have to do a lot of reading; I
hope the i-Mode Developer’s Guide will help with
that. Note that, despite the title, the book isn’t
only for developers. There is some pretty good
information on the business model and underlying
technology as well.
Q: Please describe future book titles and articles
we can expect from you?
A: I’m working on a proposal for a new book that
will focus on the business of wireless in Japan and
that will extract some valid lessons for content,
application, and service providers that are looking
at launching mobile Internet efforts on the baby i-modes
staring up in Europe and the US this year. I’m also
continuing to work on the streaming video version of
Wireless watch, and that’s proving to be very
interesting. We’re hoping to persuade some of the
wireless insiders here to come on the program and
share their experiences and show some of the new 3G
handsets and mobile services that are being
Q: For those relatively new in the computing field
and for seasoned veterans, which areas should they
target for future study, what are the high-growth
areas, and can you provide specific advice?
A: That’s a tough one, since the subject area is so
huge. I think one trend that bears real study is the
provision of e-commerce and e-payment via wireless
platforms. Japan is once again in the lead here, and
we should see handsets next year that work with
contactless smart cards or other smart cards to
enable pay-on-the-go shopping using the cell phone
as a secure, authenticated terminal. I also think
that telematics is gaining a lot of ground; look for
many new cars to be wireless-enabled starting this
Q: What 10 tips can you provide to others that
helped you in your path to success? What would you
do different looking back in hindsight?
A: They are:
1. It’s always tougher than you think; don’t quit
and always keep trying.
2. Define and maintain the aim. Make your aim a
single, well-shaped goal that you can state in a
3. Turn off the TV
4. You don’t have to know everything yourself, but
it is real helpful to know those who do.
5. Remember all that motherhood stuff about eating
well-balanced meals, getting lots of exercise, and
not staying up too late? It’s true.
6. There’s two kinds of knowledge: information that
you know, and information that you think you know.
Don’t rely too much on the latter.
7. If you want to develop a skill -- any skill, like
writing or speaking – practise, practise, and
8. Find a mentor – someone who’s been around for a
while – and seek their advice regularly. And then
act on that advice.
9. Never underestimate the hidden or unseen
consequences of technology. Sure – using the
Internet to share data via mobile terminals helps
enrich many lives. But don’t forget that that
terminal uses silicon chips and other components
manufactured at factories that use some of the worst
environmental pollutants around.
10. Take a break. Play with a child. Go for a walk
with an old-timer. Call your mom. And above all else
don’t take yourself or anything too seriously.
As for what I’d do differently, I would definitely
spend more time experiencing the world. I think I
was a little to intensely focused on studies and
work in the first part of my career.
Q: As a writer about the Internet, you have your
finger on the pulse of what to expect in the future.
What are the five hot topics in IT today and where
do you see these stories/areas developing in the
next two years; five years?
A: I’m not too sure I have that much insight, since
my area of interest is just one tiny slice of all
that’s going on. But If I had to gaze into my
crystal ball, I’d probably look for:
1. Extended wireless capability that enables even
more devices to share information, like your watch,
your fridge, and your home.
2. Telematics, and the deployment of “CANs” (car
area networks) that will enable all sorts of useful
data to be accessed while moving.
3. Hydrogen fuel systems that can replace gasoline
engines and finally cut our economy’s dependence on
hydrocarbons. While this has little to do directly
with IT, this combined with telematics will, I
think, utterly transform how we move about over then
next ten years.
4. The end of the hard drive and the development of
new solid-state persistent memory materials.
5. The establishment and growth of new players in
the mobile software area that helps keep traditional
players (like Microsoft) from dominating wireless
like they have desktop computing.
Q: Businesses are seeing many technologies in their
strategic paths. What advice, would you give to
businesses as they plan their own evolution in the
next five years? Do you have specific technologies
and processes they should watch out for and
A: Technology is irrelevant unless businesses can
devise and develop business models that help
customers, provide sustainable and fully costed
profits, and create workplaces that don’t exploit
Q: What do you do to relax?
A: Go to the gym, rebuild computers, go hiking, read
(about non-technology subjects), and travel –
ideally without staying in huge, sterile hotels.
Q: Daniel, thank you for sharing your valuable
insights with us today and we look forward to
reading your books, and articles.
A: Thanks – it’s been my pleasure.