Prepare for a range war. If theres been any significant movement in the mobile and wireless industry in the past year—and there has been a lot—one thing is certain: Were moving outward in giant strides.
Find me an executive who doesnt sport a BlackBerry or data-capable smart phone among his or her inventory of necessary devices. Connectivity—the ability to get to critical data, whenever and from wherever you need it—continues to drive the market.
Granted, the percentage of smart phones in the market remains dwarfed by that of consumer cell phones, but developments on the horizon signal that could be ready to change—starting with the way we define cell phones.
Looking to the coming year, Symbian Ltd., purveyor of the operating system that now dominates that market, will be moving the platform and its ability to accept third-party applications into the mass market.
“We could have a discussion for two or three hours about what is a smart phone,” said Simon Garth, vice president of market development at Symbian.
In the Symbian camp, he said, the definition is “a phone designed with an operating system with open interfaces that people can write additional software for.”
Look for third-party mobile apps to proliferate in the coming year—and not just on the Symbian OS. PalmSource entered the realm of open interfaces earlier this month with its acquisition of China MobileSoft.
The move, in some analysts estimation, was necessary for the former Palm Inc. spinoff to meet the rising competition its getting from Symbian and Microsoft. The move aligns PalmSource with a community of developers eager to extend the Linux platform to the mobile masses.
Earlier in the year, Microsoft even liberalized its licensing terms for Windows CE—all of which points to lively competition among mobile applications developers.
And what will those applications be? For Symbians part, Garth predicts that his company will bring increased sound and video capabilities to phones and handhelds. And given the demand for photo-capable phones in the consumer market, the prediction appears on target.
We may also see video-capable smart phones make inroads into the enterprise in areas where field force activities demand visual communications.
-Fi Stretches”> Were also seeing some serious movement to stretch Wi-Fi boundaries. Work is moving ahead within standards-setting organizations on specifications that will redefine what high-bandwidth, high-speed, area-wide Wi-Fi solutions will look like.
By some estimates, were not likely to see the official 802.11n specification emerge from the IEEE until 2006. That organizations task group has just begun sifting through the four complete proposals and 28 partial proposals it received.
But one common element in most of the proposals for the new standard—designed to push throughput to at least 100M bps and maybe as high as 500M bps—is MIMO (multiple input/multiple output) technology.
MIMO itself is not new. It was pioneered by Airgo Networks and exists in the companys True MIMO chip set, which began finding its way into products this fall. If you want a glimpse of what it offers, check out Belkin Corp.s “pre-n” router, which uses Airgos True MIMO chip set.
And given the strength of the Belkin products early reviews, expect to see more of these devices move into the market before the specification is ratified.
Enterprises and small businesses, be warned: Anything “pre” standard is, by definition, proprietary and likely wont be interoperable with future products that implement the finished standard.
Other standards-based, high-throughput options will become available in 2005 as products based on Broadcoms Broad Range technology make a market appearance.
The chip set combines a bit of something old and something new to boost range and performance on Wi-Fi networks that use current technology. Based on the current 802.11g standard, the chip set promises throughput that is high enough to take on pre-n products.
And then theres WiMax. The phrase here is: Stay tuned.
WiMax generated a lot of excitement in the industry, not to mention ink in the computer press, in 2004. Much of it had to do with Intels heavy involvement in developing the technology.
The 802.16a specification for fixed WiMax operation is official, but its not likely to gain steam until next year, when the IEEE is expected to come forth with a mobile WiMax standard.