As mobile and wireless technology adoption continues apace, the technology itself will develop steadily over the next five years, rather than leaping ahead, analysts have predicted.
As a result, businesses will benefit from more mature and secure wireless technologies that interoperate better and run faster.
Ellen Daley, vice-president at Forrester Research, said that about 60% of companies have deployed a wireless network in some form. But by 2011 as many as 90% will have rolled out the technology, with implementations running deeper into their organisations.
Daley said wireless systems would not replace wired networks in this timeframe, except for in some branch offices and public buildings. “We do not think wireless will be the primary network for most companies; it will be a required secondary network that introduces mobility. Nothing will be as reliable as a wired network,” she said.
The business world in 2011 will have a lot of complementary wireless networks, said Daley, and these might include corporate Wi-Fi networks, municipal mesh networks, which are a confluence of wireless hotspots, 3.5G mobile carrier networks, and smaller Wi-Fi implementations.
“As a result, the client technology will have to adapt to be able to find the right network that the business wants to use – which will be managed by a chip in a computer or a phone, to find the best wireless signal. This will be dynamic,” said Daley, meaning the process is automatic. But she added that businesses would have to work out how to manage the provision of their wireless networks to get the most effective usage in terms of cost and traffic.
Mark Blowers, senior research analyst at Butler Group, said that within five years, there would be the widespread ability to link together wireless hotspots and to broaden Wi-Fi coverage for roaming users.
Wireless mesh networks use mesh networking (the ability to hop across nodes to maintain a connection) over a wireless local area network. The benefits of the technology are that nodes can be used to repeat a signal, so networks can span large distances.
Wireless mesh networks are also extremely reliable, as each node is connected to several other nodes, and the infrastructure tends to be much cheaper than traditional wired networking equipment.
However, there are more than 70 competing schemes for routing packets across mesh networks, and standards body the IEEE is developing a set of standards – under the title 802.11s – to define an architecture and protocol for what it terms ESS mesh networking.
In addition, said Blowers, in five years, Wi-Fi and Wimax will run side by side and interoperate better. Wi-Fi refers to IEEE 802.11 standards, incorporating the fast 802.11i protocol, and 802.11.n, which is even faster and more secure, said Blowers.
Conversely, Wimax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) refers to the IEEE 802.16 standards. It is similar to Wi-Fi in concept, but has features designed to improve its performance and allow it to be used over much greater distances.
Wimax provides high-throughput broadband connections over long distances, and can be used for high-speed business connectivity, broadband connections to the “last mile” and wireless hotspots.
Blowers said Cisco and others are working on broadening network coverage with Wimax, and many suppliers are working on making the data handover better. This hand¬over is a problem at the moment, but networking equipment makers are building session management into the access points, said Blowers.
He added that the meshed Wi-Fi/ Wimax networks will eventually carry wireless voice over IP traffic, when the upstream and downstream links are both broader.
As for 3G cellular mobile technology, which is used to carry voice and data over specific frequencies of the radio spectrum, this will continue to develop in a linear fashion, said analysts.
3G will continue to be the technology of choice for mobiles, with 4G about 10 years away, said Blowers.
One analyst said that the wide area wireless networks available from the main carriers will move beyond 3G to 3.5G with HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access), and HSDUPA – which features both a fast downlink and fast uplink.
3.5G technology offers theoretical data transmission speeds of up to 15mbps. By comparison, 4G offers 100mbps while moving, and 1gbps while stationary.
3.5G has a low latency, which means fewer delays to users when downloading attachments and accessing demanding business applications such as enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management.
Blowers said businesses would benefit from this technology by having faster and deeper mobile access to the business when out and about, and advanced collaboration tools, when voice becomes linked into business applications.
He added that faster mobile smartphones, coupled with technology that can switch the user’s connection over to the corporate wireless Lan when they are in the office, will enable business users to carry a single telephony device.
“It is about having the ability to use whatever technology is available and switch from Wi-Fi to cellular to Bluetooth. At the moment we are a bit siloed and cannot be switched from one to the other without losing the session,” said Blowers.
He said that in the supply chain, radio frequency identification technology will continue to mature as it is more widely adopted. “The technology is no longer an issue, though there will possibly still be a cost issue. There may be back end data issues – you will have to be able to support the additional data that is generated [as more items are tagged],” said Blowers.
Sarah Burnett, senior research analyst at Butler Group, suggested that mobile phones may be able to interact with RFID chips to send real-time information all over the world.
“I can see RFID eventually appearing in the consumer area – for example, to tag cereal packages, to speed up responses to promotions, linked to mobiles, to get instant feedback,” she said.
Several new wireless Lan technologies will emerge within this timeframe, most notably near-field communication (NFC). This is being developed by Philips Electronics and Sony, and promises secure, more affordable, low-power wireless networks.
NFC supports transmission speeds up to 212kbps, and is inexpensive, costing 10 to 20 times less than alternatives, and requires one-half to one-third as much power as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. NFC also has a transmission range of only a few feet, which makes it difficult for intruders to intercept data.
Suppliers trialling NFC include MasterCard International, Microsoft, Motorola and Visa International.
Another technology that is likely to emerge by 2011 is Zigbee, developed by a group of more than 100 suppliers. Like other NFCs, Zigbee is a relatively cheap and simple system.
The standards-based wireless technology does not use Wi-Fi, infrared or Bluetooth. Zigbee operates in the 2.4GHz radio band – the same one used by Wi-Fi systems, microwave ovens and cordless phones.
It supports data transmission rates up to 250kbps at ranges from 30ft to 200ft. The specification also supports a mesh network connecting up to 65,000 network nodes.
“Zigbee is a near-field wireless technology that is used with a mesh and sensors to get information about things – for example, in industrial automation. It can be used in nuclear power plants which have a lot of pipe, flow, temperature and pressure information they have to control. It would be difficult to run Ethernet cables in these environments, but Zigbee uses
802.15b, which is like Wi-Fi but has a low data rate and low data read consumption, and is coupled with temperature or pressure sensors,” said Daley.
As companies continue to explore existing wireless technologies such as 802.11, Bluetooth and 3G, and emerging technologies such as wireless mesh networks, NFC and Zigbee, it is clear that the options are broadening. The wireless landscape of 2011 will look significantly different from 2006.
Looking five years ahead - the growth of mobile
Full internet access on mobile devices, with advanced search facilities
Seamless connections to enterprise systems from small devices, with fast two-way connections
Data manipulation and business intelligence on the mobile client
Extended wireless network zones used to shift large data volumes
Applications that give employees control and ordering capabilities to restructure and reformat data and broadcast it to many people
Home offices used as data storage nodes, with mobile devices uploading and synchronising data
Mobility encourages the blurring of the working day as mobile devices become more powerful
Extensive use of video conferencing to lower business travel costs.
Source: Michael Hulme, professor at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Lancaster University
How mobile devices and applications are set to develop
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