It's something of a cliché, but physicist Niels Bohr summed it up best back in the 1930s: prediction is tough, especially when it's about the future.
But that's probably not what IT professionals looking to invest in high-speed wireless services want to hear. The wireless market is already a patchwork of access technologies, platforms and protocols, from Wi-Fi to mesh networks and 3G services. In the next few years, the arrival of services such as ultrawideband (UWB) will make the market even more complex. How are IT managers supposed to know which technologies will survive, which will fall by the wayside and which might never deliver?
The answer is that all of these technologies are likely to survive in some form, says Ken Greene, European technical director at wireless service provider iPass. In the future, mobile workers will access networks that seamlessly incorporate a range of access technologies, Greene believes. "Ask me how I see business mobility in five years, and I'd sum it up as unconscious connectivity," he says.
Today, iPass uses technology that allows wireless consumers to access hundreds of Wi-Fi hot spots in hotels and other public sites using a single password and account -- even if the hot spots are run by different providers and on different technology platforms. In the future, Greene says, this type of seamless roaming will be extended not just across Wi-Fi services, but also networks using anything from WiMax in the city and UWB in the home.
Low upfront costs
By 2008, a worker could open their laptop and automatically be connected to the fastest, cheapest wireless network. A connection would be established without the need to install any software or perform complex configuration tasks. "The user will, or should be, a lot less aware of the technologies he's using. He just cares about the service," says Greene.
That's good news for workers accessing public wireless networks, but what about enterprises looking to wireless-enable their own employees? To some extent, analysts say that it doesn't matter too much which wireless access technology is deployed -- the cost of today's wireless systems is so low that if a technology becomes obsolete, you're unlikely to lose out, says Caroline Sceats, an analyst with Forrester Research. "The risks involved in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, for example, are low because the upfront costs are relatively low," she says.