Predicting the future is always difficult - technologies that seem certain winners end up consigned to niche markets, or are soon forgotten, whereas technologies such as short messaging service (text messaging) that were not initially promoted take off and become 'killer' applications. Sometimes it is a challenge to see beyond the hype of a new technology, or in this instance the convergence of two technologies.
Many industry analysts are predicting exponential growth in every market connected with the wireless Internet. Inevitably, these forecasts indicate that the market will be worth billions of pounds in 2005. This is only a small part of the picture that enterprises will need to address. Questions that should be asked are how this growth is going to be achieved, whether the existing infrastructures will be able to cope with the volumes required to generate the projected revenue, or, if not, whether the return on investment will cover the cost of investment in the new infrastructure.
As wireless technologies mature and costs come down the proliferation of wireless devices will explode. Butler Group analysts predict that the key issue for wireless Internet is connectivity, not mobility. It should be borne in mind that, in the future, wireless devices will also include household appliances, such as fridges, cookers and lighting. There will come a time over the next few years when existing paradigms will no longer support the anticipated volumes in wireless traffic created by the many different types of wireless appliance.
Emerging technologies, such as Bluetooth (wireless protocol), Simple Object Access Protocol and Java 2 Platform Micro Edition, among others, will enable the connectivity of the many mobile appliances that will flood onto the market over the next few years. Butler Group analysts also see the Extensible Markup Language as one of the key enabling technologies for bringing together the many disparate areas in the wireless environment.
The Short Term
Over the next two years, many new mobile applications and services will start to become available, as the always-on connectivity, offered by general packet radio system, starts to become obtainable. Leave the continual worries generated about third generation (3G) to the network operators to resolve and start to plan leveraging increased profitability from the wireless Internet by utilising the 2.5G mobile technologies.
Organisations need to be aware of what is happening in the wireless Internet environment. To do this they need to form relationships with companies who are market leaders in this space and begin to formulate a corporate strategy.
The key to i-Mode's success was not speed, but always-on connectivity, allied with interesting applications. Focus should be put on usability and simple applications, not the technology. Having said that, the installation of Bluetooth and wireless local area networks over the coming months, allowing the removal of device attachment by wires, will be a good start to improving working conditions and flexibility.
The wireless Internet can be likened to the development of the PC operating system, which started from DOS and moved through various releases of Windows: Windows 1.0 to Windows Me. The current, data-enabled mobiles are the beginning of the story and could be said to equate to DOS. Whoever heard of Windows 1.0 or 2.0? So there are probably a number of iterations of Wireless Application Protocol required before something usable evolves.
In the short term, the complexity of the environment will get worse before it gets better, making, where possible, the utilisation of open standards an important consideration. The Internet-centric approach to communications will continue to be employed. The growth in wireless devices will be such that, in a few years' time, the existing methodologies will no longer be able to cope and developers will need to look at new ways of approaching infrastructure design.
The Longer Term
In the five- to 10-year timescale, the cost of wireless chips will have dropped significantly, meaning that it could be cost-effective to have wireless functionality in a Cornflakes packet. Once the price of a wireless chip has fallen to a few pence, it will be possible to produce all appliances with the ability to communicate not only with humans, but also with other devices.
Rather than utilising the Internet as the main conduit between devices, it is envisaged that, in the future, device-to-device links could be the main way of interaction, employing the Internet when content or applications are required.
Innovative solutions will be required to handle the expected growth in wireless appliances. This could initiate a move away from central control, leading to more embedded data/intelligence in each wireless appliance and a decline in importance of the laptop/desktop PC. A radical approach to problem-solving by 'thinking outside the box' and looking at systems in nature will be required. The existing solutions, based on client/server architecture and centralisation of data, will probably not work in the long term.
Martin Butler is one of the world's foremost thought leaders on technology and strategy. He is the chairman and founder of the Butler Group, one of Europe's leading analyst groups and he regularly writes for CW360.com