Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Predicting the future of wireless

I'm not ashamed to admit it. I'm 40 years old, have a mortgage, job and obligations, and I still believe in magic. I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, and I read each installment with the same wide-eyed wonder as I might have done when I was ten.

Arthur C. Clarke once said in 1961 that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

I believe that is the case with wireless.

Imagine for a moment if you could go back to the time when telephones were still newfangled novelties. Imagine trying to explain to an average man on the street that, one day, we would be able to talk to anyone, anywhere in the world, whenever we wanted, at any hour of the day.

That man on the street would say, "Why, we can do that too, with this new device from Alexander Bell."

Then you tell him you'll be able to do it without wires of any kind. You'll be able to pull down conversations, data, pictures and movies out of thin air--just like that man from the past could receive radio stations from distant lands.

"Why, that's magic you're describing," that historical man might say.

And yet, this is the technological world we take for granted now.

We can use cell phones and PDAs to retrieve all sorts of information, even settle debates over arcane trivia (Who was JFK's running mate? or What was the first wild-card team to win the Super Bowl?) with a couple of quick thumb-taps on a BlackBerry.

Our cell phones have evolved into so much more than mere communication devices. They are alarm clocks, music players, and digital wallets. They are road maps and talking museum guides. They help us monitor our children, our weight, our appointments, and our goals. In short, cell phones have become a remote-control for our lives, electronic Swiss Army knives that are as indispensable as our driver's licenses.

In short, we are using and sending more information through the air every day, and wireless carriers are trying to keep up with our increasing thirst for wireless knowledge.

Over the past few years, there has been an ongoing debate among some in the wireless industry as to which communication standard (CDMA or GSM) would emerge as the new global default. In the end, this debate is about the same as deciding which Dixie cup to use for a Big Gulp-sized thirst--neither one can handle the expected growth.

We can split up cell sites into smaller and smaller units to ease the load on our overburdened wireless networks, but that will only work for so long. Eventually, a new standard will have to take hold (WiMax, or some other parlance to be invented later) to keep up with our desire to access anything, anywhere, anytime.

This is the behind-the-scenes engineering that makes technological magic possible.

In a blog posted March 7th on, Andrew Seybold offers a suggestion for the rest of us--waiting for technological advances requires patience. We should not be too quick to throw out the old copper cables just because they are old; there is still a lot of life (and magic) left in those lines.


Does the fact that we will have new WiMAX, AWS and perhaps 700-MHz network operators coming to the wireless party make a difference? I'm sure it will, but it will take time. Even then, many won't understand the truism that the wireless industry understands so well: "There is not enough radio bandwidth in the world to convert all of our communications to wireless. Wired will continue to play a very important role as we move forward."

The wireless industry is a great environment in which to work. It is becoming more competitive and the rules of engagement are changing rapidly. Wireless is one of the fastest-growing industries of all times, and as it morphs into whatever is next, it's fun to be along for the ride."

It all still seems magical to me.


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