Wireless data technologies have been coming of age for at least the past couple of decades. Remember HSCSD? And it wasn't so long ago that Wi-Fi was new and exciting. Wireless data technologies seem to periodically "arrive" every decade or so -- without ever managing to have a truly significant impact on more than a core group of users.
But all signs indicate that high-speed wireless data services are now really arriving -- and in a big way. For one thing, the sheer number of mobile users is rocketing. According to several different research organisations, roughly a million new mobile subscribers come online in India every month. Many (perhaps most) of those are consumers, but enterprises that I've spoken with project 100 percent to 500 percent growth in the number of mobile-enabled employees (in all geographies) by mid-2008.
An increase in the number of mobile users is just part of the story. Even more significant is the increase in mobile bandwidth to each of those users. Mobile and wireless services are rapidly transforming from "poor man's connectivity", with data rates well below those for fixed services, to being comparable in speed and quality to their fixed-line counterparts.
By some projections, mobile broadband services will overtake fixed broadband services as early as 2010. And technologies such as HSPA and LTE deliver 1M to 10Mbit/s throughput to mobile users. That's enough to handle today's traffic mixes (e-mail, web browsing, file transfer) as well as tomorrow's (interactive video, streaming multimedia).
What are the implications? For starters, IT executives need to stop thinking of wireless and mobile technologies as a niche -- relevant for a subset of users, but a footnote in the organisation's overall strategy. Instead, they should assume that mobile connectivity will become an increasingly important piece of the technology road-map, and plan and budget for it accordingly. That means rethinking current approaches to security and management, as well as revisiting overall costs (mobility adds significantly to per-employee IT costs). It also means envisioning ways in which business processes can be enhanced and improved.
More broadly, planners and legislators in many countries need to revisit global telecom policy in the context of emerging broadband wireless. Today, large chunks of spectrum are allocated to services such as analogue TV that are virtually obsolete. And wireless technologies (including but not limited to GPS) can also potentially play a significant role in revised and enhanced emergency services.
Finally, network architects at enterprises and service providers need to rethink network designs as last-mile connectivity grows and evolves. Today, the typical user generally consumes a megabit/second or less in WAN connectivity. But as broadband wireless becomes the norm rather than the exception, applications will evolve to expect and consume much more, increasing performance requirements on edge, access, and core routers and switches.
The bottom line: wireless has been around for so long we've begun to take it for granted -- and that's a mistake. It's time to plan for tomorrow's multi-megabit mobile networks.
Johna Till Johnson is president and senior founding partner at Nemertes Research, a leading independent technology research firm.