EDITORIAL: Wireless worries

EDITORIAL: Wireless worries

If you spend time monitoring emerging IT trends (which you should), you'd have noticed the US has gone dotty over wireless Internet technology of late.

Just last week, Sun announced a wireless strategy which included a raft of products, services and partnerships with ASPs and developers.

It's also investing $US100 million in venture-capital funding for wireless startups.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has uttered the word "wireless" a few times and Nortel is blanketing the US with advertising about its own wireless technology. IBM also has new server products targeting the wireless infrastructure market. One US story quoted IBM as saying this market will be worth $50 billion over the next three years. Another, from US research outfit Cahners In-Stat Group, said that 1.5 billion cellular phone handsets, PDAs and Internet appliances will be equipped with wireless capabilities by the end of 2004.

And just to add more hype to the market, the US Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association recently held the "Wireless IT 2000 show", where the industry could marvel at new and prototype technologies, predominantly software applications for handhelds.

But hold on a minute, what's really going on here? Telecommunications carriers are still voice-centric and mobile/wireless transmission speeds are barely 9.6Kbps on a good day. Then there's security concerns and software interoperability worries.

And resellers I've talked to in Australia believe voice is still the "killer app". Theory says as long as you can talk to customers and partners, business can continue in the face of a temporary data network outage (unless you're a dot-com, of course).

But more importantly for the channel, the real question is do customers really want wireless technology? Certainly there are worthy applications such as wireless barcode scanners for retail and warehouse environments. But we're not talking high-speed wireless connection to the Internet here are we?

The sticking point for me is I'm just not convinced corporate customers in any country are even seriously considering wireless technology.

Cahners In-Stat Group claims users want mobile commerce applications, entertainment, real-time financial information and travel and direction services. With the exception of mobile commerce, it sounds like an expensive toy for rich consumers, not profit-hungry corporates.

And history shows if any technology is really going to fly, it needs widespread corporate adoption.

I think the ray of sunshine, if you'll excuse the pun, is that Sun believes ASPs will be the first to adopt, develop and push the technology.

The vendor will rely on more than 50 software developers, ASPs and content service providers to enable different computer systems, wireless and physical networks to interoperate.

So if we suspend disbelief and assume the telcos have the ability to give us solid, fast wireless networks, then this emerging IT channel will play a vital role.

This is not yet the domain of traditional channel players, but certainly the new channel in the form of ASPs, ISPs and service providers may just have something solid to hang their hats on.

They just have to believe in the vision and do some fast talking in the boardrooms of corporate Australia before we consign wireless technology to the IT-hype scrap heap.

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