Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Future of Wireless Networks

This is a lengthy feature article from NewsFactor Networkabout the future of wireless networks and idnttifies "a few of the trends that are most likely to emerge and get a sense of how future developments will affect consumers as well as I.T. pros."

One possibility is the $100 smartphone. Phil Redman at Gartner remarked, "Although I agree that the $100 smartphone is coming, it will be around the 2008 time frame, and not in 2006." He believed that "when such a phone eventually arrives, it will be targeted at enterprise workers and 'prosumers' -- a term used to describe early adopters -- rather than at a general consumer audience."

Lisa Pierce at Forrester Research voiced skepticism about the $100 smartphone. She said, "When Motorola and Nokia chime in, I'll believe it." Pierce then added, "Most of the devices already out are not user-friendly, and smartphones are even more complicated. Whether it is every 18 months to two years or whatever, few people are going to appreciate having to relearn everything each and every time they upgrade. So somebody better start designing a great user interface."

Another area is dual-mode handsets that "can make calls over regular cellular networks and over VoIP when within range of a Wi-Fi hub." Forrester's Pierce thought "Their use will be limited to enterprise workers whose most-critical need is to maintain a constant communication capability in any environment."

Gartner's Redman commented that "Right now we are still in the convergence transition period, with a lot of different applications and operating systems out there that need to be put together. There's no standardized format for this yet -- it's like a puzzle where the pieces have been all shaken up and now they all need to be organized. This is what the industry will be working on over the next five years."

In an ideal world, roaming gloablly and seamlessly would also be nice. Pierce countered, "It is not in the interest of any cellular service provider to get out ahead of the cost problem. This is simply because the effort would not have an impact on carrier finances except in a bad way."

As for "using Wi-Fi phones to counter today's high global-roaming costs," Pierce said, "The basic question continues to be, is Wi-Fi going to be where I need it while traveling?" And whenever making a voice over Wi-Fi [call], we would have to go through the public Internet, in which case we need to consider just how that voice call would be prioritized."

As for future next generation networks, Pierce said, "Wi-Fi has been a useful interim step, but at some point in the future we will have to grapple with the question of just how much of an investment do system operators want to put into the current infrastructure."