A big change has happened

by francine Hardaway on November 19, 2003

A big change has happened to the technology industry in the past few years, even while we thought we were in a recession. Although you might not often think about it, the center of your information technology universe has shifted from the desktop to the network– and the internet is the center of the network. The internet has replaced the pc as the dominant force in your life. More and more, you spend your most productive moments away from your pc, but still connected to the internet�either by your cell phone or your laptop.

That�s why the wireless industry is growing so fast. According to the panelists at Wireless Expo 2003, the wireless market will double in 2004 (although the revenues to wireless companies won�t, because with the widespread adoption of wireless, prices are going down). A big shift happens in the end of November, when cell phone users become able to take their numbers with them when they change carriers. Soon land line numbers will be equally portable.

Several obvious trends are driving the wireless market. The first is the availability of small, light devices that don�t require much power and don�t burn up from the heat they generate (as the old analog phones and laptops did). Along with that convergence comes rising consumer expectations: we want to be able to talk to everyone on our cell phones no matter where we are, and now we�re expecting to transmit data as well�email, stock quotes and pictures. Soon we�ll expect to get movies on our cell phones or PDAs while flying on major airlines. As consumers, we now feel a sense of entitlement to broadband networking. We�re always on.

We�re also broadly aware that the nuisance of wires is already overcome in Europe and Japan, and that the American consumer is somehow behind the power curve. We hate that. In rural areas and underdeveloped countries, broadband grows linearly, with enormous support from government. Deploying a wireless network is much cheaper, and whole regions and even countries will skip the land line phase altogether.

At home, in the area of data transmission, we are also being trained to reject wires. Bluetooth already connects our printers, keyboards, and mice. And there�s a new technology on the horizon called ultrawideband. Ultrawideband would replace the majority of connections in a home theatre. It would transmit data (movies, music, pictures) in the home without wires. You can download movies to your PC and beam them wirelessly to your TV.

The vision is for a future without the restrictions of lines and cords. The future of telecommunications is total access solutions; one seamless communications experience. This is driving the telecom industry to a frenzy of rapid change and industry growth, accompanied by uncertainty about which technologies will win. Wireless manufacturers are under unprecedented financial and competitive pressures, as time to market becomes ever more rapid.

In the US, we still have the competing standards of CDMA and GSM for our cell phones. While it is commonly believed in the industry that CDMA uses spectrum most efficiently and is more secure, Europe has a huge investment in GSM, and many Americans wish we�d switch so they can use their cell phones on business trips. If we are indeed to carry our cell phone numbers with us over the world, we have to migrate to a single platform with backwards compatibility.

For example, Sprint is committed to CDMA, and is beginning to roll out broadband data services in an evolutionary fashion. According to Sprint, there are now 164 million CDMA customers worldwide and all major carriers are migrating to CDMA. The number of international CDMA subscribers grew 31% in 2002.

In 2004, a technology called w-CDMA will increase the speed of data transmission on cell phones to 2 mbps. Then they will evolve to another technology called EV-DV (evolutionary voice-data video). That will enable cell phones to transmit video.

With all the progression of data speed in cell phones, where does wi-fi fit in over the long haul? Currently, it is believed that Wi-fi and CDMA are complementary, with
Wi-fi being the equivalent of the wireless Local Area Network, and CDMA the equivalent of a wireless Wide Area Network.

Despite the power of cell phone operators, wi-fi will continue to exist as the grass roots broadband protocol of choice. Wi-fi has several very engaging properties: it�s unregulated; it�s unlicensed; it�s simple, and it�s cheap. No matter what the cell phone purveyors roll out, don�t look for Wi-fi to vanish any time soon. It�s just coming on strong.

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