Wireless Is Coming… Fast

If you’ve been sitting on the fence about getting into the wireless Internet, a recent report by International Data Corporation might just knock you off into the future.

Why? IDC’s latest report, “Wireless Access to the Internet 1999: Everybody’s Doing It,” forecasts growth of 728 percent between now and 2003, with the number of wireless users increasing from 7.4 million in 1999 to 61.5 million users.

Lian Gilliot, vice president of Worldwide Consumer and Small Business Telecommunications research at IDC, says that “It is easy to envision a time in the next few years when the majority of Internet access could be through wireless and not wired means.” It’s a bold statement, but one that could change everything.

“But,” I hear you asking, “who the heck wants to access the web through their five-line telephone screen?” Good point, except that’s probably not what people will be doing.

IDC sees wireless usage not as something that will suck big gobs of text into your wireless device, but as a way to quickly and easily access small bites of information in real time. “The irony is that many users will not know they are using the Internet over their wireless devices – they will simply see, as some do today, updates from CNN, CNBC, Reuters, and so on, and take that fact for granted. The underlying infrastructure that makes this possible is invisible to them,” says Gilliot.

I’d like to take it one step further. While small bits of information will continue to be an important content source, most of that is being done today via text-paging systems. How many people do you know who get stock prices and sports scores wired to them via their pagers? Lots, I’d wager.

Nope, what’s really going to get the wireless revolution going is the killer apps that take advantage of the fact that, like the rest of the Internet, the wireless web is a two-way communications channel that allows the user to interact with the data he sees on his screen. The real wireless revolution will come when it’s used for delivering interactive applications to the wireless consumer.

Like what? Think of all the little bits of information you wish you could carry with you all the time. Besides all the phone numbers and email addresses you’ve got in your Palm there’s a whole host of other stuff it’d be nice to be able to pull up at a moment’s notice.

Currency conversion rates and directions would be great to have at your fingertips when you’re traveling in a foreign land. Interactive access to your constantly changing corporate calendar would be invaluable when trying to schedule your next meeting from a client’s office. If you’re in a business that needs to base estimates on commodity prices (like construction, for example), wouldn’t it be great to know the exact cost of materials at the moment your customer asks for a change? Even better, wouldn’t it be great to be able to recalculate costs based on those up-to-the minute numbers using an interactive calculator or a small-scale spreadsheet linked back to your office?

You can’t think about it for more than a few minutes without coming up with a gazillion ideas that nobody’s tackled yet… at least that seems to be my curse. The wireless future is wide open, and now’s the time to start laying plans for your assault.

If you’d like to get your feet wet now but don’t know where to start, I’d suggest first bopping over to Yahoo’s Wireless Application Protocol directory and checking out some sites. At this point, with Microsoft’s interest in the protocol, WAP seems as if it’s positioned to be the standard.

If you’re interested in trying to get your current corporate information or your site’s content into the wireless realm immediately, check out the offerings from Riverbed Technologies.

Riverbed’s ScoutIT and ScoutArchitect offerings allow you to jump into wireless application development immediately, and its upcoming ScoutWeb product will provide a seamless transition from your current web site into the wireless realm. The ScoutWeb server works with your current web server to translate graphic-rich content formatted in HTML, XML, and XHTML for efficient wireless delivery.

Wireless is coming… fast. While it may continue to be a niche market for the next year or so, the potential is out there and increases with every new phone or wireless appliance that comes on the market. Don’t sit on the fence… jump out into the fray now.

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