March 23, 2006
 

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Posted: 02.04

The Year of Living Wirelessly

Our columnist predicts that 2004 will finally see wireless WANs become readily available to America’s mobile workforces.
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By Tim Bajarin




As I walked the floors of Comdex in Las Vegas last November, I am pretty sure I was the most connected person in the building. On my wrist, I wore a beta version of the Microsoft Direct Spot watch by Fossil that constantly updated me on news, stocks, weather and multiple instant messages sent from my office, all in real time.

On my belt was the new PalmOne Treo 600, connected to the AT&T GPRS wireless service. I used it many times during the day as I walked the show floor to access my schedule information, contacts and, more importantly, to check e-mail and make phone calls, also in real time.

In my shoulder bag I had my Dell C400 laptop with a CDMA 1xRTT wireless PC Card from Sprint. At least twice during the day, I sat down, pulled out my laptop and used this network to again check e-mail and download larger files for a presentation I was to make later that day.
I also had in my bag the new Toshiba e800 Pocket PC device with built-in Wi-Fi. I used it to do high-speed handheld Net surfing thanks to the Wi-Fi service available at the Convention Center.

Too Much?

This much connectivity is clearly overkill, but I describe it here to illustrate just how far we have come with the ability to retrieve data and information we want anytime, anywhere. In fact, thanks to CDMA wireless networks from Sprint and Verizon, and GSM/GPRS wireless networks from T-Mobile, Cingular and AT&T, wide-area wireless access to data is available to almost anyone in the U.S.

While this generation wireless networks is not all that much faster than dial-up (data rates of 40 kbps to 128 kbps are the norm), AT&T finally rolled out its new GPRS EDGE service at Comdex. This network allows users to snag data via a PC Card modem at speeds up to 200 kbps. Later this year, the new CDMA 1x EV-DO wireless networks from Verizon and Sprint should go nationwide with data access racing to well over 500 kbps.

With these new wireless data networks rolling out, it becomes harder and harder for enterprise managers to ignore the fact that if they really
need to give their workers wireless data access, the solutions are there. Of course, access to these wireless networks comes at a price, which alone will keep managers from immediately equipping the bulk of any mobile staff with wireless WAN. On average, all-you-can-eat wireless data plans cost $80 per month. But with the reach of these new networks, managers have a tool available to provide real-time data access and retrieval for the mobile workers who really need this type of wireless connectivity.

New and Powerful

At the same time, new devices with more powerful software make it easier to turn a phone like the new Motorola Windows Smart Phone into a serious data appliance, while next generation PDA/cellphone combos like the Treo 600 or the Samsung i700 not only let you send and receive wireless e-mail, but also gain access to VPNs and business applications while away from the office.

We are also seeing new devices being created that should hit the market by the middle of 2004 with both Wi-Fi and GPRS wireless chips to allow
a user to seamlessly roam between a very high-speed Wi-Fi network and a GPRS WAN. I have even seen a new chipset that houses Wi-Fi, GPRS and Bluetooth and fits in a PDA to give a device an incredible level of wireless data options. Two years ago, this type of access was just a dream.

In 2003, the first year wide-area wireless data was really available in many markets, it was only utilized by early adopters and in vertical segments. But 2004 should be the year when wireless WANs start to take off and become readily available to most American mobile workers. And given the heated competition that will embroil the wireless carriers, I expect all-you-can-eat data pricing to drop quickly, enticing enterprises to give more of their workers real-time information access to increase their overall productivity. •

Tim Bajarin is president of Creative Strategies (www.creativetrategies.com) a technology consulting firm based in Campbell, Calif.
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