Most of us take it for granted that we can check e-mail with our mobile phones. But not long ago, this was a truly disruptive technology that changed how we did business and stayed in touch when we were away from home and the office.
Which begs the question: What new mobile technologies will emerge in the next few years that will change our lives?
That question was posed to a group of industry analysts, futurists and executives for key vendors, a group grounded in reality, not fantasy. Yet, they still suggested 13 technologies that will provide dramatically better mobile access, better devices and better applications. Some of these life-changing technologies are just around the corner while others years away.
These aren't isolated technologies. Rather, for the most part, they build on each other so that one won't be possible until another is widely available. But they all, in their own way, will significantly improve how individuals and business users are mobile.
Let's see what the future holds.
Advanced applications and devices require fast, easily affordable access, but today's 3G cellular data service remains expensive and, with typical speeds between 400Kbit/sec. and 700Kbit/sec., slow. That's about to change, however, and the pace of change will remain rapid into the foreseeable future.
Disruption 1: Mobile WiMax
Sprint Nextel said it will launch its mobile Xohm WiMax network commercially in a handful of cities next spring with more cities added throughout the year and 2009. It has the potential to be a game-changer, some experts say.
"If you're looking to 2009 or 2010, WiMax will be somewhat revolutionary in terms of wireless broadband," said Brian Clark, a partner with M/C Venture Partners in Boston. "It starts to offer a DSL-level of [wireless] service."
Sprint claims that Xohm's typical (as opposed to peak) speeds will be in the 2Mbit/sec. to 4Mbit/sec. range. And while Sprint hasn't yet provided pricing details, it has said its WiMax offering will be priced similarly to DSL and cable access, which is significantly cheaper than 3G. Even more radically, at least for a company best known as a cellular operator, Sprint won't demand long-term contracts but, rather, will use a subscription model.
Verizon Wireless said it will deploy a competing technology called LTE (long-term evolution), which will have similar speeds to Sprint's Xohm network. However, most observers believe that LTE and similar technologies deployed by other carriers won't start to be available until at least 2011. By that time, proponents claim second-generation mobile WiMax will offer speeds potentially as high as 1Gbit/sec.
Why it's important: Most of the other disruptive technologies discussed here require fast, affordable wireless access.
What could hold it back: Some of Sprint's shareholders want to throttle back its WiMax plans and put more energy into the company's faltering cellular efforts, a sentiment that led to the firing of Sprint CEO Gary Forsee. If that trend accelerates, mobile WiMax may be delayed or may not be given the resources to succeed.