OPINION: Will wireless wow the world?

OPINION: Will wireless wow the world?

Not since Guglielmo Marconi realised the commercial possibility of sending and receiving signals via the airwaves in 1899, has wireless technology looked so promising as a communications medium.

Or has it? I mean, take the humble mobile phone. Some would suggest the mobile phone has come a long way since the two-tone grey bricks touted in Oliver Stone's Wall Street because everyone knows mobiles promise 99 per cent coverage. Except of course in the CBD and other high-density areas, where 98 per cent of the calls are made.

So what if we have 3G, Bluetooth, IEEE802.11 (a and b), microwave, laser and satellite connectivity if the signal's going to drop out every five minutes? Vendors, for example, are already promising robust and mature products even though the take-up for wireless beyond the phone has been pedestrian at best. To offset this and continue the hype they employ researchers to bandy around terms like "early adopters", "critical mass" and "cost justification" to keep the rest of us at arms length.

The year 2000 has seen some pretty cool kit hit the market but even this hasn't managed to pry open the corporate purse strings to any great extent. At the end of the day, a corporate's strategy is pretty simple, if the mobile sales force needs access to the Internet all they need to do is find a phone line. If there's not one in the vicinity then the over-ruling verdict is usually -- get off the beach. But then corporate bean counters have always had short arms and long pockets.

The other constraint is the technology itself. With clunky packets being sent across 2Mbps connections and viewed through WAP or PDA devices -- screen sizes that give a whole new meaning to the word "scroll" -- it seems there is either too much information, inadequate platforms or extra sensory perception should be brought in during the third grade.

I'm for the latter, but the only teacher I've ever met who knew I was going to talk before I did has long since given up the game. Perhaps she's on the beach checking her share portfolio through a laptop connected to a mobile and on to the Net. I'd like to think so, but networking vendors have yet to deliver on the Hollywood promise -- on my beer budget at least.

But with vendors backed to the hilt with R&D and acquisition budgets, and genuine uses for wireless technology, such as in hospitals, mining and travel, it is only a matter of time until the wired world gives way to the wireless. History repeats. However, to do this it is going to take a lot of network integrators to bring about the sea change -- a handy position to be in if your company can obtain the skills.

I guess the lesson can be learnt from storage and security. Resellers who have evolved into, or formed specialist divisions within themselves have excelled in 2000. While others, who have only just taken the hint, are anywhere from six to 18 months behind the eight ball.

The added bonus of the wireless market is its diversity. Whether you'd prefer to be a one-person band unwiring homes and cafes, or a major national player hooking up airports and universities, wireless technology has the potential to be there. Anywhere there's air, that is . . . oh no, sounds like next year's marketing slogan.

Richard Noone is the section editor of ARN's Network Solutions and Enterprise Solutions pages. Email him at

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