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The 7 Biggest Wireless Surprises Coming in 2004

Who stands to gain the most?

Wireless is taking off in a big way, but some surprises await us. How do you predict the seven biggest surprises about to hit the wireless industry?

I spoke with two well-connected "ringers" who have a keen sense of the industry. I absorbed their combined input and pooled seven responses.

My Ringers
Alex Lightman is a wireless visionary heavily involved in supporting IPv6. He keeps his wearable computer from Charmed Technology (his product, his company) focused on the pulse and frequency of tomorrow's wireless realities.

Attorney Robert Rini is a telecommunications and technology partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, Washington, DC. Mr. Rini represents wireless technology interests before Congress, the FCC, and other courts and government agencies. He is a member of the Federal Communications Bar Association.

Here are what they think will be the seven surprises (in no particular order):

1) Wi-Fi - Less, and More, Than Expected
Despite the Wi-Fi hoopla, proliferation will be too slow. "If you add up all the Wi-Fi that will be deployed in the United States [in 2004] it will be equivalent to one or two cellular base station areas," says Lightman.

With as much money as has been invested in Wi-Fi, in 2004 we will see that written down. However, Wi-Fi will remain popular where it is available. "Cellphones with Wi-Fi will do better than those [without]," predicts Lightman.

Despite slow growth, certain areas will be heavily populated with Wi-Fi. This will impact the industry in a few ways. "With fixed Wi-Fi, you will see roaming, enabled by IPv6," says Lightman. Where Wi-Fi is grossly populated, you will see that signals don't necessarily make good neighbors. "Wi-Fi [will fail] to live up to expectations because of all the interference between unlicensed users. There will be more congestion and customer dissatisfaction than we expect," says Rini.

2) Camera Phones Drive Unexpected Cultural Changes
Okay, so camera phone popularity in the U.S. is no longer a surprise. But the impact of camera phones on U.S. culture is yet to be felt.

Camera phones will be so commonplace that where we saw some PVC footage in the news and in the courts, we will constantly see newsworthy and litigation-worthy camera phone footage.

Journalistic accuracy will be challenged and enhanced as most every story can and probably will be caught with still and streaming digital images. Opportunity will create a rise in the number of lawsuits filed and won. This will affect liability and therefore insurance costs.

"Every kid in America will have a cellphone. We will have an explosion of victim documentation or attempted victim documentation. We'll see a rise of community policing [that will be] watching these phones. This will change lawsuits and the nature of evidence and proceedings," says Lightman.

3) Sensors Seize Myriad Application Opportunities
"The fastest growth will be in human-to-sensor or sensor-to-sensor communication. You will find people deploying sensors for all kinds of things - temperature, pressure, cameras, fire detection," says Lightman. Small and inconspicuous, sensors have been slipping into position in all sorts of industrial applications for years, such as acoustic emissions testing or electrochemical sensing of compounds and pollutants.

New and existing sensors will be resourced in more beneficial and cost-effective ways by aggregating data over the wireless (to wired) Internet. Useful analyses of compiled data will thrust sensor installs into high gear. Both the usefulness and types of data to be had will spawn sensor-enabled applications for all sorts of high (and low) priority needs.

4) The Wireless War
"Once the wireless stuff gets up, these soldiers will have their own cameras. We're going to see all kinds of transmissions from the soldiers in Iraq. That's going to further spur the growth of camera phones here," says Lightman.

We'll see it, but I doubt it will be uncut or non-selective material. Military technologies for acquiring and sharing the images via futuristically small devices attached to each soldier have existed for a few years.

Mark Our Words
I'd like to have introduced this with the cliché, "Mark my words," but obviously, I had help. Watch for these developments throughout the coming year. If I have erred, I expect some feedback. If I get so much as four out of seven right (of course I expect to get them all right) I'll want a turban (not a beanie), a robe, and a mountaintop address, where I shall wait posed in meditation, taking further questions as time permits.

5) The Wireless (Political) Platforms
During this election year, wireless will be an issue among presidential candidates. It will be discussed as a problem that needs a solution, not a solution to a problem. "For the first time, America's position in the wireless industry will become a political issue that will be discussed during the elections. It will be a major thing because it will start to be so obvious that we are behind not only Europe and Japan, but also Korea and China," says Lightman.

An even bigger surprise would be if any candidate comes up with a competent solution. Bigger still is would be said candidate getting elected and following through. (Of course, I predict that these surprises won't happen, which is unfortunate, but no surprise.)

6) Convergence, Ads, and Entertainment
The U.S. is a high-tech importer. Devices that are members of this mobile invasion will be capable of knowing who their owners are, where they are, and what their contacts and interests are. That will make these devices and you great targets for highly personalized advertising.

"Asian companies, particularly Korean companies, will be advantaged because they have more people using 3G per capita than any place on earth," says Lightman. "If you combine that with Samsung's home entertainment centers, you are going to find mobile phones being used as remote control devices for what is called ‘the 10-foot experience.' If you combine that with Microsoft's Media Center, you'll start to see this blurring of lines between two businesses that are starting to come together. Microsoft will make bigger advances into the mobile phone market. They've been trying for years but [this] year I think that remotes will give them an opportunity to get in there."

7) Fixed Wireless Returns
"The FCC is rebanding the MDS […] and ITFS frequencies […] to create contiguous capacity and to facilitate mobile wireless broadband applications. This is very good ‘beachfront' spectrum at 2.5GHz because it propagates well. Recent advances in technology help overcome line-of-sight restrictions that previously hampered efforts to develop a video business in competition to cable. This spectrum is highly coveted for mobile broadband applications. The FCC is expected to adopt new rules by late summer or early fall to facilitate the provision of mobile broadband services over the spectrum. This step by the FCC will trigger an enormous amount of investment and will afford consumers additional choices for receiving innovative new services. The company that stands to gain the most is Nextel," says Rini.

Note: Nextel is among the largest holders of MDS spectrum. Nextel's industry market is a large market, but push come to shove, no one is going to want to carry two cellphones. Given that for many at least one phone must be carried for the job that puts food on the table, which phone do you think will be kept, and which discarded? Can we say market intersection?

More Stories By David Geer

David Geer is a contributing writer to WBT, a journalist, and a computer technician. He graduated from Lake Erie College in 1993 with a BA in psychology and has worked in the computer industry and in the media since 1998.

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