Wireless boom won't displace PCs, panellists say

Mobile devices will become more prevalent but will not replace traditional desktop PCs, according to panellists of a keynote session at Gartner's Spring Symposium/Itxpo here on Wednesday.

Calling the wireless uprising "effectively the second coming of the internet", Gartner's Ken Dulaney, who is a vice president and research area director, led a panel of luminaries from the three main areas of wireless technologies: communications, devices, and operating systems and applications. The overlying theme is that the movement to wireless has only begun and is going to change dramatically and rapidly.

"What a cell phone is on a particular day won't be a cell phone tomorrow," said Paul Chellgren, vice president of business development at Nokia. "People are going to use different devices for different applications and situations. You want information relevant to a particular day, where and when you are," he added.

Robert O'Hara, wireless architect for Microsoft's productivity appliances division, agreed that the most daunting task is not going to be taking the technology to a higher level, but rather delivering information in a way people find useful. "The operating system is not the hard stuff," O'Hara admitted. "The challenge is getting all the data that is of value to you and delivering it so that it's easy to use."

Echoing the idea of wireless capabilities leading the internet to another level, Jay Highley, vice president of Sprint's business customer unit, agreed that the effects wireless technologies have already had on business and consumer markets will only continue to perpetuate themselves.

"Just as the internet has changed the way we live, wireless will change the internet," Highley said. "The functionality is there and the speeds are adequate to bring true value right now. We will continue to see it evolve down this line to more in-depth content."

Gartner analysts this week have predicted that Microsoft's Windows CE will dominate the industrial handheld market space while Palm OS dominates the white-collar market, and that 70 per cent of PDAs (personal digital assistants) will be free or subsidised by 2004. Additionally, widespread embedding of Bluetooth will happen in 2002, according to Gartner.

"Bluetooth is very important," Highley said. "It offers a lot of different choices for both consumer and business customers."

None of the panellists, however, said that the growth and integration of wireless technologies as a societal and business phenomenon means the death of the desktop. The reasons given ranged from the capability to use a wide variety of applications to simply having a larger screen and keyboard.

"The notebook especially has its place, particularly in productivity," Chellgren said. "What we'll see is evolution from the PC down."

Finally, the panel touched on the need for a global standards solution for wireless data, agreeing that having one standard will be important, although which standard is the correct one was an area of controversy.

"The one lesson we can learn from European wireless is having one GSM (global system for mobile communications) standard," Chellgren said. "Whether we as an industry can compete -- and also work towards -- a standards solution will be a major question."