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5 Wireless Trends To Watch In 2008

Andrew R. Hickey

Advancements in wireless are certain to take strong hold come 2008, but it won't just be a spate of new technologies or products that impact the airwaves. Sure, technology will still be a major part of wireless building steam again next year as it snowballs to ubiquity, but other considerations like sociology and legislation are certain to impact the spectrum and how it's used.

"VARs are going to have a great year when it comes to wireless," said Craig Mathias, principal of the Farpoint Group, a wireless research firm. According to Mathias, with so many wireless advancements and developments, resellers are sure to find customers begging for not only hot devices and technologies like 802.11n, but they'll also look to their VARs for guidance on how to weigh the ROI of a wireless deployment.

1. 802.11n

802.11n, the latest wireless LAN standard, will gain more traction come next year. Currently, it's still in draft form and won't be ratified until probably 2009, but so far that hasn't stopped vendors like Cisco, Meru and others from shipping 11n-enabled products. 11n separates itself from its a/b/g counterparts by offering faster throughput -- between 100 and 200 Mbps, and in some configurations up to 600 Mbps -- and broader range. Experts have said that 11n is going to change Wi-Fi as the world knows it.

"2008 is going to be an interesting year for 11n," said Ben Gibson, Cisco's director of mobility solutions. "What you get with 11n is greater reliability and scale of connectivity."

Ryan Rose, wireless practice manager for WorldWide Technologies, a St. Louis-based systems integrator, agreed and said once 802.11n is ratified "it could revolutionize how people think of wireless."

Still, Mathias is quick to caution that companies should not simply consider throughput alone, despite how enticing the promise of ridiculous speeds may be with 802.11n.

"Think rate vs. range, rather than just throughput alone," Mathias said. "There is a difference between peaks and realizable speeds. Companies need to set their expectations realistically."

Burton Group senior analyst Paul DeBeasi said next year will see laptops and notebooks available with 11n, as opposed to 11g. And most companies looking to upgrade their WLAN next year will deploy 11n.

"By this time next year it's going to be 'hey, what a great year 11n had,'" DeBeasi said.

2. Fixed-Mobile Convergence and Dual Mode

According to Mathias, 2008 will see a massive influx of Wi-Fi-enabled mobile handsets. Already available by some manufacturers including BlackBerry and Nokia, Wi-Fi-enabled and dual-mode devices will become more mainstream, further pushing fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) to the forefront. FMC is essentially the tying together of voice, unified communications and wired and wireless networks for one seamless way to access information from anywhere at any time.

Cisco's Gibson said dual-mode as a device model and the ability to extend connectivity from any device both on and off campus is going to be a huge push in 2008. While FMC and dual mode devices might not reach mainstream status, Gibson said its place in wireless will be cemented next year.

"There is never going to be just one network to give you all that access," he said. "You're going to start to see pilots."

Gibson said the ultimate goal is to offer single number access and single voicemail capabilities. But FMC is not just roaming between the Wi-Fi and cellular networks, he cautioned. It's also wrapping in VoIP, presence and unified communications, all while ensuring the best method of connectivity at a given time and location.

Rose agreed, noting that single-device access will help enable companies achieve real-time status, further enabling the mobile worker, something VARs and their clients will hope to do throughout next year.

3. Web Services

Next year will also see more mobility of Web services. The thin client model will dominate, Mathias said. While Mathias admits he's a bit biased on the side of Web services, more so than thick client solutions, he said it's more realistic to envision mobile workers accessing information and applications through the Web as opposed to bulky thick client applications on the devices themselves. Using Web services, he added, takes up less real estate on the device.

A Web services model, Mathias said, can let workers access information from any Web-enabled device. Instead of carrying around a clunky laptop, or even a bulky smartphone, Mathias said mobile workers can borrow a friend's or colleague's device, as long as it's Web-enabled, and access business applications safely and securely.

NEXT: The Network Opens


4. Sociology and Legislation

We've all heard ringing cell phones in restaurants and have seen the reminders to shut them off at the start of a movie, but Mathias said 2008 will see wireless device courtesy become a mandate as opposed to a suggestion, making overhearing loud conversations about anything and everything an uncomfortable piece of history.

"There's a backlash against these constantly ringing cell phones," he said. "People are forgetting to use common sense and common courtesy."

While signal jammers, devices used to block cell transmissions, are still illegal to install in most areas, Mathias said 2008 could see legislation to enforce appropriate and rational use of mobile devices in public. He said it could advance to the point where phones automatically get switched to silent or vibrate as someone crosses a threshold into a restaurant or other public area.

Mathias added that legislation is also coming that will ban mobile device use while driving, with or without a headset.

"That's a major safety issue," he said. "It creates inattention blindness."

While Mathias said for many these legislative and social mandates will be a welcome change, just how to enforce those new rules and regulations may be more of a trend for 2009.

Cisco's Gibson said he hadn't really considered the sociological aspect of wireless ubiquity, but noted that separation of work and life will continue to be a heated debate in the anytime, anywhere culture wireless technologies have spawned.

"Mobility for business purposes should have its place," he said.

5. Network Openness

Mathias said the biggest wireless story of 2007 "- no, not the iPhone -- will carry over and continue to dominate next year, and that's the story of openness, offering any device open access to any network with the switch of a SIM card. Verizon Wireless in November said it would open up its wireless network to outside devices and applications by sometime next year. ATandT quickly followed, claiming its network is and has been wide open. The announcements were surprising to many in the industry and out of character for major service providers, especially Verizon, since it once fought tooth and nail to keep networks closed.

Mathias said open access, meaning devices from other manufacturers, can access other carriers' networks, will shake up the wireless industry, which until openness begins next year was largely proprietary in North America.

"They realize the easy money has been made," Mathias said of Verizon and the carriers that are soon to follow suit and unlock their networks. "You can't tell a big corporation any more that they can't use a certain device."

For VARs, openness is also good news. It gives them more devices to sell over time and a wider array of solutions to offer. They can give customer more choice, which is likely to lead to strong customer retention, especially when contracts with carriers to use their networks may be a thing of the past.

Openness, Gibson agreed, is positive for business, especially as 2008 becomes the year that seamless mobile collaboration starts to stick.

"Enterprises will start adopting it and the carriers will have to catch up," he said.

Steve Brumer, president, CEO and founder of Wireless Rain, a Suwanee, Ga.-based wireless VAR and managed service provider, said the impact of network openness on the channel is up in the air, especially neither carrier has offered their exact definition of open. Still, he added, open networks could let VARs launch more managed service offerings, which could let their clients rely less on the carriers for support and more on their VARs.

"From a VAR perspective, it will open up more opportunities to sell more products or different products," Brumer said. "It could get to a point where customers are relying on you for more products."

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