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November 11, 2004

Wireless In Its Youth



Courtesy of Mobile Pipeline

Gabriel Garcia Marquez' remarkable novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, begins with the elderly hero recalling his childhood as a time that was so new, "many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them, it was necessary to point." We seem to be in that same place now in the wireless world.

The current situation with wireless technology brings to mind the late 80s, when pundits bandied about two big questions: Would Ethernet or Token Ring prevail and could anybody push Novell off its throne as network royalty? There has long since been nearly ubiquitous deployment of Ethernet in the enterprise and Microsoft easily dethroned Novell, so it's hard to imagine a time in which such seemingly elemental questions were at the front of our minds.

But here we are, almost twenty years later, wondering whether mobile employees will end up using Wi-Fi, WiMAX, 3G cellular data or some combination. Nor do we know what type of devices we'll be carrying in five years or how our voice calls will be routed. Instead, we just point and say that, some day, we'll have fast, ubiquitous mobile voice and data service on tiny devices that do everything.

I'm not complaining, mind you. It's a blast to be paid to observe and sometimes comment on this situation. And, best of all, I get to play with lots of this technology. When I'm done playing, I fire up Word and write about it. Of course, it's not quite so simple or fun for those who must buy, manage and support all this new technology. We're at that awkward stage in which the benefits of wireless technology are obvious but the technology itself is in constant flux. It's hard to know which technology an enterprise should invest in.

But what I'm really thinking about is ubiquity. In the late 80s, it was hard to believe that networks would ever be ubiquitous in enterprises. Now, with the plethora of overlapping wireless technologies, it's hard to believe that, someday, we'll have a fast wireless connection, no matter where we are. But I believe more than ever that it will happen, at least to the level that cellular voice service is ubiquitous.

It was the dream of ubiquity that launched the ill-fated wireless boomlet at the end of the millennium. But it was a good dream then and behind all the bluster and wonderment, it remains a good -- and achievable -- dream now. I may not be able to put words to exactly what it will look like when it manifests but, like Marquez' hero, I can point to it in the distance.

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