Its promise has been easy to see: Take away the annoying configurations associated with Ethernet cables and modem lines and provide users with automatic and effortless data transfer on a LAN or WAN connection.
The notion of small, long-life digital devices that can easily carry around a subset of your centrally managed corporate data has been illusory. To the extent that cellular phones have become business tools, their success has been borne on the shoulders of workers individually adopting the technology.
But that is finally beginning to fundamentally change.
On the cultural side, corporations are slowly integrating wireless phones and other devices into their purchasing plans and, to a lesser extent, their management plans. Management platforms such as Tivoli Systems’ are beginning to embrace wireless or occasionally connected devices with small-footprint agents. At the same time, individual users are turning their cell phones into their primary communication devices. In Europe, where lingering regulation has made wired telephone service quite expensive and not terribly flexible, many users are making rational economic decisions and forgoing a land line altogether.
That movement coincides with the vision increasingly expounded by several networking vendors. Those firms, notably Nortel Networks, have begun in recent months to describe a vision of wireless technology where consumers or corporate users can use a single wireless handset for communications. With intelligent roaming, a user on a corporate campus can use local facilities for communications; once the user leaves the campus and switches to a commercial carrier, that user’s billing and usage information also switches.
The technology to do that is not there today. Wireless LAN networking will always be one step behind (today it is running comfortably at 10M bps) wired connections. But for voice and truncated data usage, the notion of corporate use is entirely feasible.
Cell phone manufacturers are also incorporating more corporate technologies into the increasingly digital devices: large directories, sophisticated voice mail and text messaging. The PalmPilot can synchronize with desktop PIM information. The step to integrate those devices with mainstream corporate data is a short one.
For broadband communications, such as high-speed Internet access, cable television services and so on, telecommunications companies are turning to fixed wireless as a quick and relatively painless answer to the “last mile” problem. With the RBOCs’ virtual monopoly on local circuits in the United States, competitors looking to provide high-bandwidth access with those ever-important added services see wireless as a way to sidestep tariffing and provisioning problems.
Sprint just bought People’s Choice to do just that with ION; much has been rumored about MCI WorldCom’s plans. AT&T is the exception: It clearly is leveraging its TCI investment. Equipment providers are eyeing this market as a lucrative one.
Perhaps wireless will soon be known as the rich relation in the telecom family.