[This writeup stems from an assignment I had at work regarding our current mobile initiative. I was given free reign to draw up some thoughs on where wireless computing would be in the next few years. Here’s the results]
The next 2 years in wireless computing will shape up to be one of the most exciting times in technology. With the coming onset of broadband wireless, wearable computing, and intelligent agents the office will become obsolete as we have instant access to all of our information, everywhere.
===Decentralization and Web 2.0===
Computing has seen a shift over the past 40 years from large bulky mainframe servers with many users to personal desktop machines with a single user. We are now seeing the beginning of another shift of ubiquitous computing, or one person having many computers. back to shared servers accessed by many people simultaneously. Whereas before one needed to worry about what operating system and software one had on a system, now days it is only imperitive that one has a standards compliant web browser on the system and a web connection to have access to everything one needs such as email, word processing, data storage and audio/video capabilites.
Many people are envisioning a shift toward a web OS accessed on dummy terminals, relatively low powered inexpensive computers that serve only to display information stored on another server. This decentralized distributed computing environment makes deployment and management simple, as administration is done centrally and information is available globally. No where can this be seen better than with the advent of webmail systems such as Gmail, which offers gigabytes of storage space with integrated virus scanning and search capabilities, not to mention it’s ad-hoc use as a word procesor. There are other services that offer data storage, online calendars, content management, bookmark storing, project management, news aggregation, gaming and pretty much anything eles that you can do on a PC, all across the network. The web itself is becoming a computing platform of its own, serving web applications to end users.
This trend will be most important to businesses in the form of Enterprise Information Portals (EIP). Whatis.com defines a EIP as a “Web site that serves as a single gateway to a company’s information and knowledge base for employees and possibly for customers, business partners, and the general public as well.” Making this portal available to mobile users will have a decentralizing effect on the office itself as corporate documents, email and applications become available from handsets and PDAs
The name for these types of web pages has been termed web 2.0, the definition of which varies depending on who you ask. It describes a variety of sites that utilize client server technology dubbed AJAX, collaborative content, or push technology that feeds information or subscription based content to end users.
Web 2.0 applications built on a framework called AJAX are already taking off, and are being touted as the end of the desktop application. AJAX allows desktop applications to be run straight from the web browser without load times as all data is stored on a central server.
None of this is possible without bandwidth. We are currently seeing the deployment of 3rd generation cellular data networks which have surpassed the speeds of land based dial up networks, enabling streaming audio and video. These cellular networks will be superceeded in most cases by WiFi networks in the next few years, most notably 802.16 (WiMax). WiMax is similar to WiFi in concept but has several improvements which will increase it’s speed and effective distance. WiMax will make it possible to blanket an entire metro area with a few dozen access points spread out over miles compared to WiFi which has to be spaced ever couple hundred feet. WiMax networks which have been deployed in several cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Boston, Tokyo and Bogata and Sprint has announced they will begin testing pre-certification testing equipment this year.
===Seamless connectivity between cellular and wifi and the convergence of data/voice networks===
As this wireless infrastructure improves we will see convergence between voice and data traffic with the continued deployment of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) services. Already services such as Skype are combining voice, video, chat and file transfer into one application that can be accessed anywhere on any platform to communicate with anyone, for free, all while providing end to end encryption. The Skype client runs on Windows, Macintosh, Linux, and Pocket PCs, and also has technology that allows users to make and recieve voice calls with land based users for a small fee.
Cellphones and PDAs will continue thier integration, being able to manage voicemails, emails and faxes from one location. Phones will switch from cellular to radio to WiFi networks automatically, swapping over to whatever signal is available. There are also phones on the market that will switch from a cellular signal to a land based line depending on thier location. Both of these features demonstrate what is known as Fixed-Mobile Convergence, which allows a handset to use wireless technologies such as bluetooth or 802.11 to make calls over the existing land line infrastructure. This will eliminate the need for users to have separate numbers for thier home, mobile, and office, as calls will automatically be routed to the desired person, no matter which network they might be on.
===Ubiquitous wireless and the Personal Area network===
As electronic devices continue to shrink as wireless technology continues to be included in more and more devices expect to hear more about short range networks called Personal Area Networks (PANs). Spontaneous networks will exist around a person as all of our devices that contain Bluetooth, IrDA, and RFID start to communicate with each other. A person’s cell phone will communicate with thier laptop and PDA to function as a modem uplink using Bluetooth. When you shake a person’s hand your PDA will exchange business cards with the other person’s via a network transmitted along your own skin. Bluetooth headsets and printers are also examples of PANs.
Your automobile will play a crucial part in this network as well. There are already vehicles that come with onboard computers and Bluetooth connectivity. Soon your personal computer will display a map route to your next appointment on the built in dashboard screen, which could also display incoming emails. Your car’s radio will turn off when you recieve an incoming cell phone call, which will come in thru the vehicle’s stero speakers.
Portable devices will also start functioning as identity tokens, providing building access keys and serving as credit cards. Already in most Asian markets people can use thier cell phones as cash to purchase items from vending machines.
Changes in input and output devices are expected to occur, the most important of which will be speech recognition. As the processing power of handhelds and portables increases expect to see more and more capabilites integrated into devices such as dictation and translation. A company called SpeechGear has been working on voice to voice translation software for portables that provides near instantanous translations from from a users spoken language to a computer spoken destination language.
Before we see the end of the keyboard era we will see alternate input devices such as projected keyboards that will allow us to do away with Blackberry type QWERTY keyboard implementations in favor of more comfortable input methods.Wearable computing will enable us to use a keyboard woven into the fabric of our clothing itself or activate commands based on movements.
The number of devices connected to the net will be come greater as Internet Protocol V6 is rolled out, granting us billions and billions of address for every device from refrigerators to toasters are connected to the net.
Advancements in battery life will mean that devices will stay on longer with less time spent charging.
Developments in electronic ink, flexible displays, transparent OLEDs, and integrated heads up displays will also effect the way that we view information off of our electronic devices.
This immersive mix of networks and devices is known as ubiquitous computing and is expected to be the norm for most people in the next five to ten years. The barrier between what we see as the real and the virtual will continue to dissolve.
These upcoming advances have experts announcing the death of tethered internet connections, as having complete access to all of your information will make your office obsolete. Freedom of mobility and immersive telecommunting will lead us even further into an always on – always connected business environment.
[I pretty much stopped here after more pressing items came across my desk, but it was a fun exercise. I really didn’t get to finish it up like I really wanted to so I figured I’d put it here for others to see. I also wanted to talk about how becuase of iPods and the falling cost of data storage we’re also carrying all of our information with us as well.
Below are some of the other links I hadn’t worked into the main body yet. ]
* 10 Things to Look for This Year in Mobile Computing
*Gartner’s position on the 5 hottest tech trends of the year
* Mobile Communications
* Trends and Future of Mobile Computing
* More Predictions on the Future of Mobile/Wireless Computing
* The Bright Future of Mobile Computing
* Mobile Computing: Past, Present and Future
And finally a quote from Gartner on the upcoming telecommunications upheaval. The last paragraph was already integrated into my document.
Voice/data convergence based on IP telephony and VoIP will be under way in more than 95 percent of major companies by 2010. Convergence will drive additional classes of communications-enabled business applications and cause the greatest upheaval in the telecommunications industry since its inception. Every major organization should at least be testing a converged network. However, users should not replace/upgrade the established LAN infrastructure if no definitive IP telephony plans are in place. Voice and data organizations should be merged to a single group or, at a minimum, report to the same manager.
Companies will struggle in the short term to make the financial business case, match the reliability and security of the time division multiplexing PBX, and reorganize to use the technology. By 2010, 40 percent of companies will have completed the convergence of their entire voice and data networks to a single network, and more than 95 percent of large and midsize companies will have started the process. When examining business impact, do not look at IP telephony solely as a replacement for the established telephone system. Rather, consider it a foundation to unify communications applications and assess how business and communications processes can be changed or integrated with IP telephony and collaborative applications. With a move to VoIP, reliability and availability typically improve for data but fall for voice because of the distributed nature of the environment.
WAN convergence using VoIP and Multiprotocol Label Switching will drastically affect the telecommunications industry, overturning virtually every legacy telecommunications policy and regulation. Combined with low barriers to entry to VoIP, we expect significant changes to the network service provider (NSP) landscape, with plenty of mergers and acquisitions. By 2009, half of the Tier 1 NSPs will have merged or been acquired. Through 2010, price decreases of 15 percent per year for data services and 7 percent to 15 percent for voice services can be expected. However, traffic growth of 30 percent to 60 percent means network budgets will grow 5 percent to 10 percent per year.