Killing time with a handheld

Wireless is a rare bright spot in a world that has too much unproductive time on its hands. Downtime is bad. Multitasking is good.

We only have to consider airline travel to prove the point. You spend about 30 minutes in a taxi, 20 minutes standing in line for check-in and security screening, and another 30 minutes waiting at the gate. That’s almost an hour and a half, and you’re not even in the air and safely offline.

So imagine the effect of being able to kill all that time by seamlessly accessing your corporate data and applications wirelessly without your notebook.

Some of these capabilities exist today. But when it comes to handheld devices, the trouble is that we still rely on legacy voice networks to carry our data.

Of course, that’s not surprising — the carrier industry’s main business is to sign up and keep subscribers. According to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), the number of mobile phone subscribers worldwide rose 10 per cent to 141 million in 2002, generating revenue of $US76.5 billion, a rise of 17 per cent from 2001.

These are respectable figures. But in the long term, carriers will not be able to rely solely on traditional mobile phone usage. New usage patterns will force carriers to shift more of their emphasis to high-speed wireless networks such as 802.11.

These usage patterns are driven primarily by your desire to kill time.

Some carriers are trying to get their heads around how to help us kill time.

But the carriers have a dilemma. On the one hand, they want to tap into enterprise user demand for high-speed data by offering access to 802.11b (and later .11g). On the other hand, wireless hot spots threaten to undermine the revenues they enjoy from transmitting across CDMA and GSM networks.

As handheld platforms mature, developers are building richer applications beyond voice, PIM, and e-mail functionality. As a result, the next frontier is a race to create handheld devices that let you seamlessly roam between Wi-Fi and existing carrier networks. You get to choose the fastest and most cost-effective network for enterprise data.

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