NASHVILLE, Tenn. —To suggest that the wireless industry is about to expand at an explosive rate is kind of like suggesting that a nuclear bomb is something that goes bang. Both are true statements, but the reality is an order of magnitude different.
The wireless industry is poised to enter a period of growth that will surpass anything that’s happened before to the point where old business growth management models aren’t adequate to prepare for what’s to come.
The magnitude of the change is clear if you look. New wireless devices are being announced daily, and they’re doing things that weren’t even imaginable just a few years ago. Wireless is simply everywhere, doing apparently everything. For many, the coming explosion is only dimly glimpsed, but it’s really happening.
It was apparent that Murray Wright understands the enormity of the changes about to envelop the wireless industry, but it’s also apparent that he’s having some trouble convincing the rest of the world. He said as much during his keynote address at the TESSCO One conference here. Wright is the president and CEO of TESSCO, a major reseller of wireless equipment.
Wright got his audience’s attention by pointing out that his research predicts that the number of connected devices the industry will have to deal with will grow by over 30 billion by 2020. He broke down the growth year over year in segments of the industry. He counts 33 percent growth for internet of things communications, public safety at 34 percent, small cellular installs by 30 percent. And that’s just part of the increase.
As I sat across from Wright when we talked later, he said that a major challenge was getting others to understand that this tsunami of mobile connectivity growth was almost upon them. “I tried to be a jolt for companies that aren’t ready to change,” Wright said. “We’re all trying to figure out how to prepare.”
Wright said that he sees too many people in the industry who just aren’t ready for the explosion in demand that was already growing. “There are so many demands for connectivity,” he said, noting that those demands are driven by ever growing data consumption and ever growing needs for bandwidth.
Afterwards, I sat in on a session where a representative of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security explained how his agency is already demanding more bandwidth through FirstNet, which is the initiative begun after the Sept. 11 2001 terrorist attacks to allow first responders to communicate through all emergencies. In addition, DHS is dealing with needs for a vast mesh network along the southern border of the US, which in turn is supported by a new satellite communications link.
Meanwhile IoT connectivity is everywhere. There’s a major IoT presence at this conference, but that’s nothing compared to the vast demands for connectivity by IoT devices that I saw last week at CeBIT. At CeBIT it was more than just a few sensors installed at a few booths. Instead it seemed as if the IoT was connected to everything.
While there are products being sold that don’t need wireless access, the percentage that do is growing as each type of smart device is introduced to the market. It’s more than just the obvious. For every smart light bulb and every smart refrigerator, there are dozens of small sensors and other small devices doing various data collection or transmission chore.
Each of those devices requires WiFi or some other type of wireless connection. By themselves each of those devices requires just a little bandwidth. But altogether the demands are already enormous. But as each day brings a steady stream of new devices with new bandwidth demands. The growth is inexorable.
Wright asked a question he asks repeatedly in a variety of circumstances. He asks everyone, “what are you going to do?” He suggests that greatly increasing investment in technology is only the start. But he observes the investment and the preparation need to be in well advance of the growth just to keep up, otherwise the wireless infrastructure won’t be there when it’s needed.
Part of the problem is that too many in the wireless business are looking to the past as an indicator of how to prepare for the future. The problem with that approach is that nothing in the past approximates the explosive growth that has already started.
There is no model that describes how to manage the combination of sensors, personal devices, machine to machine communications and the hundreds of other demands for wireless connectivity.
And that’s just scratching the surface. Here at this wireless show I see people from companies that are delivering new types of wireless connectivity. I see new ways that the connectivity will be accomplished. I hear people talking about wireless demands for products I’ve never heard about until now.
Meanwhile, my email is filled with new devices and services that will bring new demands for wireless communications.
But if there’s a problem with Wright’s vision, it’s that it may be too conservative. I think the explosion is happening now and the wireless industry is going to have to deal with the growth and the consequences as best as it can.