Wireless Needs Better Usability, Leadership to Fly

Rob Enderle delves into input from panelists and audience members at NetWorld+Interop and TiEcon, where he finds that customers are having trouble identifying important new technologies.

I moderated two panels over the past week. The first was on the best in show for the wireless track at NetWorld+Interop, and the second was at TiEcon on the future of wireless technology. We had a number of luminaries on the panels, including Stewart Alsop and Congressman Mike Honda.

First, I have to say I was tickled that Mike joined us. My family was in politics at one time and, as a result, Im never really sure if you can actually trust what a politician has to say.

In Mikes case, he came across as a regular guy with deep concerns about outsourcing and the impact of change on both the industry and Silicon Valley, and I personally couldnt have asked for anything more in a panelist or in a congressman.

Of all the topics I expected to have introduced, I was surprised that in the wireless industry, too, outsourcing was a key issue.

As with virtually all technology segments, support for wireless customers is being outsourced to areas where labor is less expensive, and the government is being asked to step in and protect jobs.

The panel members said they felt that this is not the governments problem to fix. They generally concurred that if government were to become more involved, the strategic impact on the industry would be negative.

Particularly interesting to me was the consensus position that it is the investor who is driving this trend. The market perception is that you are not a well-run company if you dont outsource, and that has been made into a checklist item for high company valuations. In other words, if you dont outsource, you probably wont do as well in the stock market. And until that perception is corrected, there is little the government or anyone else can do to change this trend.

WiMAX isnt a technology that delivers content over power lines, but used in conjunction with powerline networking, it could displace WiFi as it is being distributed today.

As you likely know, Wi-Fi is the umbrella that the 802.11 wireless protocols are placed under, and it represents the most common form of wireless networking today.

The panel at NetWorld+Interop was convinced that WiMAX and power networking are going to severely impact Wi-Fi. Im not quite so convinced, but I agree that the argument is compelling.

Power lines are very common and because you have to physically connect to them, they are perceived as somewhat more secure. For instance, you can drive up outside a home or building and attack a wireless network, but you have to physically penetrate the power line inside the building, in most cases, to do the same to WiMAX and power networking.

In addition, until we have fuel cells, these things need to be plugged in much of the time anyway, and if you can have your network come in through the same link, it would seem a natural path. Finally, in airplanes, this would seem vastly safer than Wi-Fi.

Next Page: Negatives include line noise and a lack of infrastructure.