Future-proofing wireless with emerging technologies

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Resellers waiting for wireless lift-off can look forward to an approaching proliferation of technologies that will massively strengthen the business case for mobility in coming years.

Resellers waiting for wireless lift-off can look forward to an approaching proliferation of technologies that will massively strengthen the business case for mobility in coming years.

Bruce McCabe, technology analyst and MD at s2 Intelligence, gave a talk at a recent Toshiba-sponsored forum on mobile technologies. He flagged about 10 emerging technologies that will matter for mobile and wireless in the workplace.

Two that resellers should start watching markets today for are software defined radio (SDR) chips, a re-programmable wireless chip, and adaptive wireless, a way to push more data through the same amount of spectrum, he said.
 
"Instead of having a chip for Wi-Fi, GSM [networks] et cetera, you only have one. You simply upload software for whatever you need [in the way of networking]. It's a wonderful concept but not new," McCabe said.

"[Adaptive wireless] is very important because it's about taking a piece of spectrum and using circular antennae pushing a lot more data through the same spectrum."

Making SDR chips -- which have been used in the military, for example -- was getting cheaper so resellers would soon start to see it in more mainstream technologies, he said.

"It uses more protocols to manufacture very specialised chips. But now there's standards and different networks, you've got practical issues," McCabe said. "You don't want to have to upgrade your laptop to conform."

Having more general chips more easily available that could be used in laptops, mobile phones and PDAs on different networks as required would boost mobility as a valid choice for many industries, he pointed out.

"Army forces ... have always been very concerned about problems of interoperability," McCabe said.

However, consumer devices were coming, he said, even as the home and office IT environment was becoming more complex. Intel, for example, had already demonstrated a prototype device that supported Wi-Fi, BT, GSM and GPRS, he said.

"I expect to see this stuff. I believe it will appear in laptops and PDAs and mobiles in the next five years," McCabe said.

The idea that wherever a device was, as long as its radio network was within range, it could be re-configured on an ad hoc basis to talk to whatever networks were around was very powerful, he said.

"You need some switch obviously to be smart enough to make decisions and that's part of it. Part of the whole future of this is better software to make your devices have the decisions as to what network is most appropriate," McCabe added.

He said that another advantage was future-proofing. Users wouldn't be so pressured to choose the likely market leading technology of the future but could simply download protocols of whatever was popular as needed.

"There's real asset savings, particularly when you get to really small PDAs, handhelds, we're talking about a lot of functionality you're building into these devices," McCabe said.

As the technologies emerged, the cost/benefit argument for and adopting any of them would change as it got easier to make better chips more cheaply and demand rose.

Long term, developments in key software to enable devices to make better decisions automatically would contribute to a push towards context-aware computing, he said.

"So your laptop or your PDA is far more aware of its surroundings and the presence of signals and can adapt without having to ask the user to make decisions about what radio links to use, for example, as an affordable price point," McCabe said. "For the future, think about that."

He said today's concerns about chip and protocol choices would eventually evaporate. "They all worry about getting it right, and is it 802.11-what? [In future] you won't have to worry about throwing out a whole fleet of laptops and PDAs," McCabe said.

Adaptive wireless, on the other hand, was not so far along in development but a lot of "leading edge" Australian research by bodies such as the CSIRO was showing the way, he said.

"What I say to people here is step back a bit and think about it. When you look at the wireless experience, you get fed these versions of XMb/s and you can get stuck into a false expectation," McCabe said.

Today's wireless reality meant dropouts, and signal quality often reduced by interference.

"Having simultaneous users massively reduces bandwidth," he said.

Adaptive wireless or MIMO (Multiple Inputs, Multiple Outputs) was one "really important" development that would address that.

"If you use the smarter antennae and use some very smart software both ends to use the signal to your advantage. What you can do is get both more throughput, more channel capacity and a more robust, more available link, a more reliable link," McCabe said.

Telstra had also researched adaptive wireless as something for its future, he said.

"But, more importantly than bandwidth, we need to make more fibre links," McCabe added.

Other technologies such as Ultra Wide Bandwidth (UWB) would also assist. UWB wasn't being talked about much but Intel had been investigating possibilities for the technology, McCabe said.
 
VoiceXML would be another driver for mobile and wireless, as would dual-network phones for doing both cellular and internet-related networking, he said.

As had been the case for years, the biggest inhibitor was battery life. Battery technology only changed very slowly, but improvements would have a giant domino effect across the wireless industry, McCabe said.

The popularity of the digital home concept would also secondarily drive mobile and wireless, he added.

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