Once viewed as little more than a toy for tech hobbyists, Wi-Fi — short for wireless fidelity — is starting to emerge as a serious force in the Internet business. Chip maker Intel Corp. is integrating it into new microprocessors it’s building for laptop computers. Philips Electronics NV is planning to build it into remote controls and stereo systems. And Dell Computer Corp. is similarly seeding its PCs with Wi-Fi. Airports, hotels and Starbucks Corp. outlets are increasingly awash in Wi-Fi radio signals.
While Wi-Fi poses problems for cable companies and conventional phone carriers selling high-speed Internet access, it has the potential to be a major headache for the cellphone business. Cellular carriers have spent billions of dollars over the past two years upgrading their networks to accommodate higher data speeds, and they are betting that consumers will send e-mail, browse the web and make use of other applications from their new phones, laptops and hand-held devices.
But now an insurgent technology has come along to threaten that strategy — just as Napster and the Internet itself sprang up from grass-roots followings to challenge the economic models of giant media and technology companies. Wi-Fi equipment works like a cordless telephone. It invisibly extends a fast Internet connection as much as 1,500 feet to any computer equipped with a wireless receiver. That means that, for a small investment in equipment, many users in the same home or neighborhood can theoretically share the same stationary Internet connection, while only paying for a single hook-up. More importantly, the speeds offered in such Wi-Fi “hotspots” are so much greater that many users say they’re reluctant to make use of the cellular carriers’ offerings.
“What [Wi-Fi] hotspots do is they really kill about 80% of the good near-term applications that the cellular providers were expecting to make money off of,” says Danny Briere, chief executive of TeleChoice Inc., a telecommunications consulting firm. One example of a place where Wi-Fi is already supplanting cellular networks: browsing the Internet wirelessly in an airport lounge.
Digital Dashboard: The complexities of todays applications need to be hidden from the new users. What is needed is a new desktop what goes beyond the files-folders-icons metaphor. It needs to aggregate the multiple streams of events that one is receiving be it email, news updates, instant messages or notifications from applications and websites. The digital dashboard should also be the launchpad for various applications. It also needs to present information in a more immersive environment, perhaps drawing ideas from video games and information visualisation. In some ways, we can think of the dashboard as a microcontent client (in the words of Anil Dash). [Related Articles]
WiFi: WiFi is the first of what Kevin Werbach calls the next WWW (the other two are next up Web Services and Weblogs). It uses open spectrum to create the high-speed, wireless Internet. Its use has so far for the creation of wireless LANs in homes or offices in the developed countries, but as the technology improves, future generations will allow for its use in neighbourhood networks, thus effectively solving the last-mile connectivity problem. [Related Articles]
Web Services: Built on standards like XML, SOAP, WSDL and UDDI, Web Services can enable the creation of inter-operable, Lego-like software components. What HTML and HTTP did for person-to-application access (via the web browser), these set of standards are doing for application-to-application access, thus creating a more seamless user experience and enabling inter-enterprise exchange of information. [Related Articles]
Weblogs: What started off as the publishing of personal diaries and journals now promises to be the anchor for the creation of knowledge sharing systems among enterprises and communities of practice. Weblogs mirror thinking be it of an individual or a collective. They are transforming the web from read-only to a two-way, read-and-write web, creating for a much richer flow of ideas that bypasses traditional media. [Related Articles]
Cellphones: They bridge the last-mile to users. Mobile phones and the GSM/CDMA/3G networks being built out by the worlds telecoms are creating an envelope of global connectivity, and ensuring reachability. So far, cellphones have worked as mobile phones (for our voices). But SMS has already made them devices for the interchange of microcontent. With the next generation of cellphones sporting features like MMS, digital cameras, faster processors and colour displays, one can start thinking of these as mobile computers. [Related Articles]
Visual Biz-ic: This is a term I coined for a software framework which allows business processes, documents and workflows to be defined and converted into software, just as Microsofts Visual Basic does for programming. This will leverage a library of existing components, enable the small- and medium-enterprises to rapidly construct the guts of their enterprise software needs. [Related Articles]
Tomorrow: The Building Blocks (continued)