Analysis: Why you'll go wireless in 2003

There came a day in the late '80s when you had to have a fax. You couldn't be taken seriously as a businessperson without a fax number on your card.

In a similar fashion, there will come a day when you'll have to go wireless. That day will be September 17, 2003.

I'm not talking here about narrowband services such as cellular phones. I mean broadband services that let you connect wirelessly to the Internet with a handheld device. That type of wireless connectivity will become "mandatory" once four conditions are satisfied:

  1. Capacity. Data rates fast enough for realistic Internet connectivity.

  2. Coverage. Service anywhere on the planet at reasonable rates.

  3. Critical mass. Enough customers and enough vendors to create a self-sustaining market.

  4. Killer applications. Software and services that give you a competitive edge.

We're just getting glimmerings of what those apps may look like. Here are four possibilities:

  • The personal assistant. Many companies are working on this idea already. To get a "Palmpilot on steroids," your handheld must be continuously connected to the latest addresses, the latest changes to your calendar, the latest messages from your office and so on.

  • The personal communicator. Think cell phone + email + voice mail + fax. In the palm of your hand. Anywhere, any time.

  • The ultimate pathfinder. Wireless global positioning, so your handheld always knows where you are. Plus wireless connectivity to city guides and maps.

  • The virtual wallet. Digital ID, digital cash, digital credit cards, all on the same device that does the jobs described above.

SIGNPOSTS ALONG THE WAY

How will we know when the breakthrough is near? Watch for these signs.

  • Faster data transmission. Most of today's wireless networks only carry data reliably at 14.4 K or so. Work has begun on a third generation standard that will support rates up to 2 Mbps. Look for widespread deployment in three or four years.

  • Satellite shakeout. At least a dozen global satellite networks will be launched in the next few years. Once they're all up and running, we'll see falling prices and a market share battle. When you see the first mergers and acquisitions, you'll know we're close to complete global coverage at reasonable rates.

  • Handheld voice recognition. When voice recognition gets good enough that it can be shoehorned into a battery operated handheld, we won't need keyboards. And all sorts of killer applications become possible.

I've done my research, I've investigated the technology, I've considered the social and psychological aspects and I've determined that the critical day will come on September 17, 2003. You've got 1911 shopping days to get your wireless handheld, or be held in scorn by the world's digital elite. You've been warned.

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