What's ahead for mobile

John Patrick leads a panel discussion on the future of mobile technology.

John Patrick, technologist non pariel is leading a panel that features Joe Ziskin of IBM, Tom Jacobs of Sun Microsystems, and Juergen Urbanski of FON.

Jacobs begins by saying the digital rights management (DRM), is the third-rail of the mobile market. Today's mobile systems, like the iPod or a phone that plays music, are closed end-to-end systems with a well-deserved negative recommendation in the eyes of consumers. So, how do you make it worthwhile for the consumer, the enterprise and content owners?

Patrick: You're working on open source DRM. A lot of people would say that means open sieve, so how can DRM exist in that environment.

Jacobs: It's not about free, it's about freedom.

Urbanski: FON is about the freedom to connect to the Internet wherever you go (I recently signed up and got my FON router, which I share with anyone who is in range). The FON network trades the access you offer off your broadband service for access to others' access when you travel. Founded in February, and it is now the largest Wi-Fi sharing service in the world. Members are called FONeros, nonmembers can still get access to FON routers by paying $2 a day. 

FON isn't disclosing numbers, but they are the largest Wi-Fi network, Urbanski says, when John Patrick asks about adoption, pointing out the chicken-and-egg problem of gaining network coverage.

Patrick now turns to the enterprise: To some extent the greatest barrier to the vision we're talking about and the biggest players are the big telecom carriers. What's up with them?

Ziskin: IBM and the telcos have to work together to make the infrastructure work, not just for moving bits, but making data useful and valuable in the market. Ten years ago, it was a very closed black-box industry, everything was very siloed, and today it is not the case that anyone can solve every problem or any problem entirely by themself. 

Patrick: With many broadband devices, you still see a "dialing" message and you wonder if they [the carriers] get it yet. Why aren't we pushing the Internet out to these devices?

Ziskin: There are different environments around the world, but everywhere you go you see carriers trying to avoid opening up their networks. They are concerned about an explosion of spam and viruses, they have controlled it to moderate these risks to their networks (my take: if you build a closed end-to-end system that may look like a problem, but if you distribute the problem to different players, the problems get solved less expensively that the carriers could do it alone). The major PTTs (phone companies and national phone systems) do still own much of the infrastructure, but the customers don't make the change very quickly either.

Patrick: Turning to mixed protocol networks.... when every device has a Wi-Fi chip, what happens to voice and other services that are fixed in the network today?

Urbanski: We see a lot of devices that are coming out with new Wi-Fi options, like the Sirius Stilletto that was introduced here. Increasingly, all devices will include VoIP, gaming features, communications and entertainment built on data and rich media. Wi-Fi doesn't cover the whole country, but it isn't true of wireless, too.

Patrick: How will business models evolve, such as in music. Will everyone be fighting Steve Jobs?

Jacobs: There are new systems, too, like Zune and the Vista DRM. So the problems begin when it comes to interoperability.

Patrick: Most of us think that if we buy content, we should be able to play it where we want.

Jacobs: This is where DRM got a bad rap, because it has been all about locking up content. So, I think what needs to happen is that we move beyond the first generation of rights management, and in the next generation go back from a model of locking up devices to a world where everything goes back into the Web. So that everything you own references hosted services that unlock it (content) on any device.

Of course, I'd point out, there would need to be a lot more networked devices.

Patrick: Do you think that is going to happen?

Jacobs: We do. We see media companies worrying a lot less about people pirating their cotnent and instead trying to compete with the free content on filesharing sites by offering content in whatever format you need and wherever you want it.

Patrick turns to the question of early adopters in the enterprise who are beginning to use new mobile applications.

Ziskin: The  big challenge in driving things to the Web is that when you look at something from the consumer perspective it is very different than in the enterprise. Consider Sarbanes Oxley, where rigorous controls on information delivery in the enterprise are required. Today, you see consumer and enterprise requirements moving apart rather than converging. It is a real challenge because there is the business problem and the infrastructure, which really controls what happens.

Patrick: One of the problems is roaming. What about hand-offs between FON routers?

Urbanski: We're looking how to do seamless handoffs between two cells. WiMax as a backhaul technology, but it is not there yet. Today, FON uses cookies to identify users when they appear on a new FON hotspot, though FON is talking with hardware vendors to make that an embedded capability that software need not be aware of.

Patrick: We don't really think of Sun as  mobile company.

Jacobs: There are about two billion instances of Java around the world, many mobile. Sun is opening Java and looking at how to make OpenDRM accessible from all applications.

Patrick: Are big companies, especially ISPs working against you?

Urbanski: The ISPs are realizing that this is a complementary play in the 3G and 4G market, which creates demand for high-end service and that help in customer acquisition. Wi-Fi can serve people who are not looking for fat pipes all the time, kids with games and people in a coffee shop.

Patrick: But when Wi-Fi hits long distance revenues, what happens?

Ziskin: It's already happening. The device is a critical component in all this, so as we see the devices continue to evolve we look at things like what Apple has done and ask how to deliver that experience in a very open way. So, DRM for it to be effective, the client does play a role in that.

Patrick: Are carriers thinking of lowering prices to drive usage?

Ziskin: It's expensive compared to what? To free? When we look at where the carriers are, they need to invest new money to get new technology into the market. It is going to play out unevenly in different markets. A lot of the winners are not defined yet. But one thing is for sure, that the people who put things in the ground and terminate calls will be there.

The end.... 


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