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By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2004-07-26 Print this article Print

It doesnt require a 150-year technology forecast to put wireless expectations in perspective. When my sons were watching the movie "The Core," which is supposedly set in the present, I was struck by the ease with which people thousands of miles below the surface of Earth were browsing shared desktops back at mission control.

Some things cant be escaped in any century: When youre three times as far from something, youre getting one-ninth the signal strength between any given pair of antennas with any given level of transmitter power. When signals pass around and through steel buildings, or just through people or trees, they get weaker and less precisely defined in terms of things such as pulse width and separation. Dont get me started on the attenuating and distorting effects of thousands of miles of hot rock.

Advanced error-correcting techniques, like the ones being used by the Cassini spacecraft now exploring the neighborhood of Saturn, can help. However, there are fundamental limits on information transmission on any given type of channel, and were getting close to those limits now.

Do we have to be killjoys? No, but we can still sound a note of reality from time to time. It will help us focus IT resources where theyre effective—that is, where they can actually do what people actually need.

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at

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Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter companyÔÇÖs first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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