SAN FRANCISCO—While high-speed wireless data networks are evolving rapidly, it is PDA users, not laptop PC users, who will make these systems profitable and productive, according to mobile computing pioneer Andrew Seybold.
“I want to make one thing perfectly clear: Nobody will pay for these [wireless data networks] with laptop users,” said Seybold, head of mobile computing consulting company Andrew Seybold Group LLC. It will be PDA users “who will pay the freight” to keep these networks in business, he said Monday at the CTIA Wireless show here.
Furthermore, the wireless voice service providers also will dominate the field of wireless data communications “because there is not a terrestrial data network in the world that has ever made money,” Seybold said.
Wireless data will be an added revenue stream for the voice carriers, he said, but data-only networks by themselves cant generate enough revenue to stay in business.
But that hardly matters because “we are heading for a 3G [third-generation] world,” in which all of the major wireless phone services are rapidly moving to various flavors of 3G high-speed data transmission, he said.
This includes CDMA2000 1X, which supported 144 Kbps in 2002; and CDMA2000 1xEV-DO, which supports 2.4 to 4.8 Mbps packet data with currently available throughput set at 3.1 Mbps, according to Seybold.
EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for Global Evolutions) is also starting to be widely deployed in the United States and offers available data rates of 400 to 800 Kbps with a theoretical peak of 2.4 Mbps. AT&T Wireless says it is providing EDGE technology everywhere that it has GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) technology, and Cingular Wireless has deployed EDGE in Indianapolis and plans to expand from there.
AT&T Wireless is also offering WCDMS UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service) in Dallas, Detroit, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle. Verizon Wireless plans to deploy CDMA2000 EV-DO in 14 major U.S. cities and 20 U.S. airports.
“We now have three cities that say they are going to build [free public Wi-Fi services]: San Francisco, Philadelphia and New York,” Seybold said. “They are going to take a local-area technology and turn it into a Wi-Fi, wide-area technology and offer it for free,” he said.
This means “anybody in the business solely as a hot-spot provider is going to be in a lot of trouble and will probably not be in business” in a year or two, Seybold said.
-Fi a Threat?”> But Seybold said he doesnt believe that Wi-Fi threatens to destroy 3G wireless technology because they are supported by two different industries and will develop in tandem.
Growth of 3G “is being driven by the wireless industry, while Wi-Fi is driven by the computer industry,” and they will address different markets, he said. Cellular carriers are interested in Wi-Fi because it promises to take the peak usage pressure off of their networks in confined areas such as airline terminals, Seybold said.
Verizon Wireless has stated that it can afford to build out its 3G capacity to handle the 30-minute network-usage spikes that are typical at airline gates, he said, adding that Wi-Fi will readily handle these spikes.
WLAN (wireless LAN) technology is also unlikely to be a serious threat to 3G, Seybold said. Mobile professionals will use WLAN technology at home and in offices, airports and hotels because they provide convenient access. But few will pay for the convenience of accessing the service in public spaces, he said.
The average consumer is unlikely to use or pay for WLAN hot-spot service because they will usually access the network through 3G mobile handsets, Seybold said.
Meanwhile, customer service, delivery and fleet management workers wont use WLAN services because they need the broad geographical coverage provided by 3G technology, Seybold said.
In the meantime, 802.11x Wi-Fi service will continue to develop steadily for a wide range of markets and applications, according to Seybold. While 802.11b is the leading wireless LAN technology, 802.11a will steadily develop as the enterprise and home entertainment leader.
“The computer industry will push 802.11a as the link between computer audio, video and home entertainment systems,” such as televisions and stereos, Seybold said. Enterprises will adopt it because they are always hungry for additional bandwidth, he said.
The future leader for the home market will be 802.11g for its capacity to support media and entertainment applications. Wi-Fi will grow steadily, he said, because in a year or two nearly all laptops will have built-in Wi-Fi and there will be many more hot spots offering free service.
While WiMax is a promising technology, it is being over hyped and will be “ready for prime time later than it proponents think it will” because it will take additional time to perfect the technology and develop an economic model to support its deployment, he said.