Cutting the Strings: Wireless Unleashed

As I’ve said before, control is the killer application — and not just on the Internet. It’s pretty much the deciding factor for the adoption of any technology. Technologies that offer more control over your life will be adopted.

We’ve seen wireless phones’ incredible growth over the last few years. Now, there’s incredible growth in wireless networking.

I could pull together all kinds of analyst reports citing growth estimates as “proof.” But I don’t need to. It’s clear to anyone who’s used wireless technology it will grow and prosper.

Why Is Wireless Flourishing?

Lots of technologies seemed as if they’d be revolutionary and fundamental. Technologies would shift the way we use our computers, homes, cars — every technology we already own. But there were always flaws and reasons they just couldn’t take off.

Wireless isn’t just a specific technology, it’s more like a platform. The kind of shifts we’ll see because of wireless are more like those of the Internet itself. Other technologies promised to extend the network. Why is wireless taking off when others didn’t?

A few years ago, I read an article about Jini, an exciting Java technology offshoot that creates dynamic flexible networks. Any Jini-enabled device can automatically communicate with any other Jini-enabled device or Jini-enabled software over standard Ethernet networks.

One of the most impressive demonstrations was a Jini-enabled video camera that automatically adjusted lights in a Jini-enabled room. Imagine a world in which all the devices you own are smart and able to communicate with each other.

Such technology is fantastic. I could list many more. But they’re too complex to explain to a mainstream audience. There’s no visceral reaction.

Wireless is not only easy to understand, it’s sexy. The benefits are so palpable that selling isn’t necessary to create converts. Wireless is experiencing incredibly fast growth. As chipsets become cheaper, wireless will be in almost everything you can imagine.

Bluetooth and Wireless

Bluetooth is finally taking off because it offers very cool, Jini-type functionality in a wireless manner. But it’s clunky. It isn’t nearly seamless or fast enough and doesn’t have enough range to be a permanent solution. I’m sure we’ll see significant extensions to it or interoperability with other standards.

Regardless of the limitations, Bluetooth offers a taste of what’s to come. With it, I can use a wireless headset to make calls from my mobile phone. It works pretty well, too. But there’s more on the horizon.

The Effect of Wireless

What will the Internet be like in 10 years? The easy answer: Everything will be connected. The refrigerator will order groceries and automatically contact the repairman for servicing. That’s the sort of shift wireless will create. Connecting any device, no matter how small, to the Net won’t cost extra. It’ll be free.

High-speed wireless networks will blanket the globe, offering better coverage than we have today from cellular networks. But voice is just the low-hanging fruit.

Most readers are familiar with the 802.11 wireless standards, such as the common 802.11b. Now, newer and faster standards are available, including 802.11g. Even faster ones are on the horizon, such as 802.16. The beauty is they are all are forward- and backward-compatible. With an 802.11b wireless card, a laptop can connect to newer standards, and vice versa.

A wireless remote control device, perhaps even a tiny implant in your eye, will replace the mobile phone. It will handle phone calls and probably even send and receive video. And that’s just the beginning.

Forget about storage. Remember how CD-R and CD-RW became so cheap? Forget CD-R and even digital video recorders (DVRs). You’ll have permanent access to unlimited data storage with wireless — from anywhere.

All this will affect marketing. Everyone will be permanently connected to everyone else and everything. See an ad for a product you want, and you can dive into the details as deeply as you like, no matter where you are. Have your smart agent (running in a data center somewhere, doesn’t matter where) collect the data and store it for later viewing.

We’ll get better data than ever about what people are doing, where they’re shopping, what they’re buying, and their behavior in general. This will be at the expense of privacy, of course. But even that issue will be licked in the next few years.

Demographic and psychographic data will be there, delivery methods will be there. We’re on the cusp of it. Smart clothes, smart devices — and hopefully, smarter marketing.

My ClickZ colleague Pamela Parker recently wrote about her experiences with 3G phones in a New York showroom connected to Japan. I truly believe we will see a leap to a new technology platform. It will be a whole new world. 3G phones only scratch the surface.

I just got my first camera phone. I haven’t taken notes on products I see in stores since I got it. I just take a picture and email it to myself to view later.

This is the sort of shift I’m talking about. It changes behavior. Heck, it even changes the way you think about things. Folks, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!

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