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The Future of Wireless Devices

Andy Mathis is senior business development manager for Motorola’s iDEN Subscriber Group. Corey Carbonara is a professor of telecommunication in communication studies at Baylor University, as well as director of the school’s Digital Communication Technologies Project. Michael Korpi is a professor of communication studies at Baylor.

Andy Mathis is senior business development manager for Motorola’s iDEN Subscriber Group. Corey Carbonara is a professor of telecommunication in communication studies at Baylor University, as well as director of the school’s Digital Communication Technologies Project. Michael Korpi is a professor of communication studies at Baylor. Peter Rojas edits the blog Engadget and works as a contributing editor for Cargo. Steve Stroh edits the newsletter Focus on Broadband Wireless Internet Access.
David Mackie works with Motion Computing.

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At their SXSW Interactive panel, the group started out by discussing the future of wireless devices, but much of the conversation touched on network access and the challenge of getting cellular carriers to work together. What follows is a partial transcript of the panel discussion.

Corey Carbonara: Standardization and differentiation are appropriate terms to open this with. We need to develop standards, but we also need to differentiate products and services. We know terms like ubiquitous computing. We’ve heard of infotainment. But when we look at wireless, we need to consider an emerging economy that will be supported by wireless. It’s not just about communication or entertainment, it’s about knowledge. If we pull back a little bit and look at wide area networks and the home, we need to think about gateways and self-healing seamlessness that’s the promise of wireless.

We’re in a process right now where we’re in a transition to high-definition TV. There is available bandwidth for data. If you look at this high-definition data, we can broadcast a signal and have some more room for other data. Here’s a homeland security scenario that involves addressable broadcast data and video. It’s not just cellular and WiFi, it’s broadcasting as well. We need seamlessness for how we hand off spectrum.

We’ve got some current problems we’ve got to face. We’ve got IPv4 right now. There are a lot of limitations, and with the increase in Internet users, we need to really look ahead to the promise of IPv6. There are going to be thousands of devices negotiating. What that leads to is this: Not all data is transactional data that needs to be done in real time. We can delay, store and forward some data that we don’t need immediately.

Michael Korpi: I want to highlight some trends and apply them to the wireless environment. What will we network? Lots of stuff: communication devices, computers, entertainment devices, appliances. Ad hoc and mesh networks will be the main way we want to do this. As soon as we get up to thousands of devices in this room, we’ll need to do it that way. One of the limitations is power.

With RFID, a lot of people are concerned about privacy. I think advertisers are going to give people reasons to leave the RFID on. And I think that your PVR in the home is going to want to hook up to the scanner. They all have to network to something. Cinema Electric makes dense media optimized for cell phones. PVR’s are going to be a major trend, and the ability to watch whatever you want whenever you want is going to translate to other devices.

We’re going to use agents that involve some sort of software profiling. Almost all of the devices will store data and interoperate. Anything that destroys advertising or an old model makes it better. There are several advertising possibilities that will end up making the model better.

Andy Mathis: How will wireless affect the future of wireless?

Steve Stroh: I don’t think the semi-proprietary model of the cell phone is going to hold sway. It’s easier to transfer over WiFi. It’s cheaper. It’s better. Cell phone carriers are resistant to having their transport commodified into, say, a GameBoy. WiFi and its descendents are going to be the wireless transport media of choice. And what we’ll be surfing is the Web, not the walled gardens that the cell phone companies want us to have.

David Mackie: I think it comes down to utility and what people want to do with the device. As you shrink stuff down you can get it everywhere from the factory floor to something that replaces paper, like this device that we make. I wasn’t a big fan of wireless devices as a point of use item. Devices are actually going into the background where you’re not actually carrying them but you can access them whenever you need to do something. It’s extremely difficult to find a single device that does everything you need it to do.

Peter Rojas: Basically, you’re going to be able to get what you want. That’s the future of convergence and the future of divergence. In the future, it’s not going to be about wireless moving in one direction. Wireless is going to move in multiple directions. Everyone doesn’t want the same thing. You’re always going to find something that’s low end. And you’re going to be able to find something that does everything. You’re going to be able to get a device — or devices — that fit into your life.

Mathis: I think that’s a very good point. I see a lot of PDS-style phones, but I also see a lot of aggressive accessory sales. It’s simultaneous convergence and divergence. As wireless becomes more feature rich, what do we see as next-generation specialty devices?

Carbonara: Embedded devices that have the ability to talk to other devices expand the network. Let’s look at a highway. You can create a dense network if every car is a device.

Korpi: I’m looking forward to flexible displays. Then we won’t have to have to trade off between design and can I read it?

Mathis: What’s the next generation of applications?

Stroh: I’d like to pick up on medical devices. Smart medical devices that you carry on your person or in your home will change medicine. We’re going to see all sorts of services we couldn’t imagine.

Mackie: The most interesting point to me is that it becomes about pure utility. Looking down the road, you can also talk about multimedia services. As you try to have devices be everything you want them to be, the devices become very complex. There’s a transference right now of trying to get the device back into the network.

Rojas: For the vast majority of people, it’s not going to be about improving their work or the way that they work. The portable devices aren’t going to be related to their work, they’ll be related to their lifestyles. And devices can help people connect with each other. Once Friendster and other stuff goes mobile, and once devices are more location based with GPS, that’s when it’ll be useful for most people. Look at teenagers. They don’t want devices that help them do homework everywhere. They want devices to find girls at the mall.

Mathis: I see value on both sides. When I first joined Motorola, it was all about entertainment. Since then I have transitioned to more of a business focus. While the business market isn’t as much about volume, business customers are willing to pay more.

Stroh: We opened by mentioning standards. I don’t think that standards are the end all, be all. Typical first-generation standards are compromised by the committee mentality. In the carrier space, we’ve got the worst of both worlds. We’ve got various standards, but the carriers dont agree that they need to cooperate. Cellular needs to look like one system for people to develop important services. Customers just want transport. They want phone service, and they want data to the phone.

Mackie: If you try to put stuff across the network, it’s quite difficult. The only thing I can see that would drive standardization at all is user behavior. We’re playing with some huge dinosaurs in the cellular space.

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