Wireless World

Newsweek writes: “Between our mobile phones, our BlackBerrys and Treos and our Wi-Fi’d computers, we’re always on and always connectedand soon our cars and appliances will be too. While there’s been considerable planning as to how people will use these tools and how they’ll pay for them, the wonderful reality is that, as with the Internet, much of the action in the wireless world will ultimately emerge from the imaginative twists and turns that are possible when digital technology trumps the analog mind-set of telecom companies and government regulators.”

Glenn Fleishman picks the one sentence to summarise it all: “The ease of distribution becomes a force in itself, pushing networks to handle more bandwidth.”

A related article discusses how the phone is becoming our next computer:

Sales of mobile phones dwarf the sales of televisions, stereos, even the hallowed personal computer. There are 1.5 billion cell phones in the world today, more than three times the number of PCs. Mobile phones are so integral to our lives that it’s difficult to remember how the heck we ever got on without them.

As our phones get smarter, smaller and faster and enable users to connect at high speeds to the Internet, an obvious question arises: is the mobile handset turning into the next computer? In one sense, it already has. Today’s most sophisticated phones have the processing power of a mid-1990s PC while consuming 100 times less electricity. And more and more of today’s phones have computerlike features, allowing their owners to send e-mail, browse the Web and even take photos; 84 million phones with digital cameras were shipped last year. Tweak the question, though, to ask whether mobile phones will ever eclipse, or replace, the PC, and the issue suddenly becomes controversial. PC proponents say phones are too small and connect too sluggishly to the Internet to become effective at tasks now performed on the luxuriously large screens and keyboards of today’s computers. Fans of the phone respond: just wait. Coming innovations will solve the limitations of the phone. “One day, 2 or 3 billion people will have cell phones, and they are all not going to have PCs,” says Jeff Hawkins, inventor of the Palm Pilot and the chief technology officer of PalmOne. “The mobile phone will become their digital life.”

In the near future, at least, new phones won’t look anything like PCs. “The industry is figuring out that a wireless handheld is a different beast,” says Mark Guibert, marketing director of Research in Motion, maker of the popular BlackBerry e-mail device. Mobile-phone watchers say that handsets in the next few years will pack a gigabyte or more of flash memory, turning the phone into a huge photo album or music player and giving stand-alone iPods a run for their money. For several years the industry has also talked about “location-based services,” built around a phone’s ability to detect its exact location anywhere in the world. With this capability, phones will soon be able to provide precise driving directions, serve up discounts for stores as you walk by them and expand dating services like the one Christoph in Frankfurt enjoyed.

But not all mobile technologists think the ultimate promise of the mobile phone ends there. Could your phone one day actually perform many of the functions of the PC, like word processing and Web browsing? PalmOne’s Hawkins thinks so. The inventor of the Palm Pilot and the Treo keeps a desktop PC and a thin Sony Vaio laptop in his office. Yet he waves at both dismissively, as if they were heading for the dustbin of history. Within the next few decades, he predicts, all phones will become mobile phones, all networks will be capable of receiving voice and Internet signals at broadband speeds, and all mobile bills will shrink to only a few dollars as the phone companies pay off their investments in the new networks. “You are going to have the equivalent of a persistent [fast] T1 line in your pocket. That’s it. It’s going to happen,” Hawkins predicts. The computer won’t go away, he says, but it might fade to the background, since people prefer portability and devices that turn on instantly instead of having to boot up.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.