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The Year Unlicensed Goes Mainstream

Thu, 12/23/2004 - 8:02am

Ern Worthman, Technology and Editorial Director

I'm on the spot now. This can be construed as making a prediction. OK, it's January, I'm feeling good about the industry in '05 so let's go for it.

Mind you, I'm not saying this just because I think I know everything. I try not to be that egotistical. I say this because there are periodic "epiphanies" or wake up calls that talk to me and the industry. And, in the last month or two, I've been seeing an uptick in the number and diversity of these "emergings."

First, let's talk about a tidbit I came across recently that didn't seem to get as much press as I though it would. It talks about Nintendo's impending GameBoy DS.

Most of us that are in tune with these gadgets, are under the impression that the impending Nintendo DS is simply a GameBoy on steroids. But embedded in this next-generation gaming platform is something that has the potential to presage in a wireless revolution! A report I came across from Engadget (www.engadget.com) reports that the DS could be used as a wireless navigational device. By doubling up as a repeater hub to link to other DS's nearby, gamers could form spontaneous networks without the need to be near a traditional access point. This is all speculation of course, but the fact that it is on the radar screen for something as "consumer" as Nintendo, should be a wake up call to our industry.

Further more, the fact that Motorola Inc.'s semiconductor division will provide Nintendo with chipsets for wireless adapters to enable mobile play on Nintendo GameBoy models lends even more credence to this evolution.

Talk about horsepower — the chipsets Motorola is developing contain 32-bit RISC architecture baseband processors. The wireless component is enabled by an RF transceiver working in the 2.4 GHz ISM band — coming soon to your local Worst Buy.

Frankly, to me this is just one more indicator that unlicensed wireless is really about to come of age. We're getting comfortable with instantaneous data at Tarbucks, airports and hotels, GPS's giving us directions as we drive and voice communication anytime/anywhere.

Another blip on the radar screen comes from a company called Transnet Wireless. These guys inked a deal with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for Wireless Internet systems at park locations throughout the state. These make available e-mail and high-speed, wireless Internet access to campers and park-goers for a small fee.

The model for this application is somewhat interesting. It brings the distributor level into the equation. The hardware, maintenance, and monthly Internet connection fees are all paid for by the local distributor, who profits from usage fees. A percentage of the revenues are also shared with the location. Furthermore, this works off of the Kiosk model.

And, while not often on the front page, my friends at California PATH, leaders in the intelligent transportation arena, are always sending me updates about advances in traveler information and other wireless vehicular technology advancements such as in collision avoidance.

More? You bet. ... Another sign of this evolution comes from Toshiba, who's offerings from their Digital Products Division, has added hundreds of new Wi-Fi hotspots nationwide offered through what it calls it's MyConnect™ Internet access service network — and they are constantly adding more. Their hotspot locations include hotels as well as cafés, restaurants, campgrounds, truck stops and rest areas, convention centers, and shopping malls across the country. This application provides users of notebook computers unlimited Internet access via Wi-Fi, broadband cable, DSL, or dial-up connection at nearly 21,000 locations for a single monthly price of $39.95.

What makes all this interesting is the number of spin-off wireless technologies, both unlicensed and licensed, that will integrate with these emerging applications down the road (did you get the part about the Nintendo having the potential to act as a navigational device)?

And, to the surprise of some/prediction of others, various consumer-centric services are becoming more mainstream — to wit, the survival of satellite radio.

The fact that companies (some traditional, some not) are willing to invest in the wireless infrastructure — the expensive part, and Nintendo thinks it has the customer support to add wireless to its gaming platform — speaks volumes.

The fact is, and I've said this over and over, that wireless (especially unlicensed) is integrating into every corner of our lives. These almost daily innovations are remarkable. And, this integration, miniaturization and cross-platform pollination isn't going to lighten up any time soon. The latest generation expects anytime/anywhere connectivity and the only capable platform with enough resources and ubiquity, is wireless.

I think we're at the unlicensed wireless "if you build it, they will come" crossroads ... Lemme know what you think.

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