Speed thrills: The future of wireless

What lies ahead for wireless technology? Fun stuff.

With wireless still in its relative infancy, attendees at Computerworld's Mobile & Wireless World conference are eagerly anticipating the future.

"We're just on the verge of being able to do some very exciting things," said presenter Al Briggs, director of mobile solutions services at Cox Communications.

The key to all the excitement is speed. Speed thrills wireless users.

Speed like that of EVDO Revision B, which may be coming as soon as 2008 to Sprint Nextel users, according to Stephanie A. Burnham, marketing group manager of business solutions at Sprint. "Rev B" will provide 73.5M bit/sec. download speeds and 23M bit/sec. upload speeds.

"That's insane," Burnham said.

It is a huge jump from "Rev A," planned by Sprint for implementation this year and next, which will top out at 3.1M bit/sec. download and 1.8M bit/sec. upload. Current capabilities on the network are 2.4M bit/sec. download and 144K bit/sec. upload.

Mark Gordon, webmaster at Prince William County Park Authority in Manassas, Va., is looking forward to faster speeds, especially the coming fourth-generation wireless technology -- as long as it's a solid standard.

"You don't want to step into something and find that everything you've done, all that taxpayer money, is out the window," Gordon said. He said the county authority is just getting into wireless technology and is interested in providing wireless access to facilities such as water parks and golf courses.

"It's exciting, if you can get to a realm where you can carry your data anywhere with you, no matter where you are, and it's seamless across all agencies -- that's key, Gordon said.

Carlos Gonzalez, systems and network administrator for the city of Orlando, is also looking for a speed upgrade. His primary responsibility is the city's police department, and he's looking for an upgrade to the current EDGE cards being used.

"We see that we're going to have to go to a better system" for police officers who may be walking, riding bikes or on horseback, Gonzalez said. He said the drawbacks to the EDGE system are "speed and areas of coverage."

Speed is also a big concern of Patrick Wise, vice president of advanced technology at Landstar Systems, who participated in a panel discussion titled "Technology Futures."

"We're constantly looking at the speed," Wise said. He said his company supports 8,500 people who are driving around, and he "would like to have speed that is reasonable" so drivers could do such mundane tasks as downloading pictures of their grandchildren, but not when they're at the wheel.

Wise said as third-generation wireless technology rolls out, "true broadband speeds will bring more richness to the user experience," providing video, movies on demand and other services that "will affect all the people that travel."

But panel member Abhi Ingle noted that "the speeds you get will be a function of economics." Ingle, vice president of the Data Solutions Group at Cingular Wireless, said that in the future, converged networks will offer services such as instant messaging, push-to-talk capability, voicemail and e-mail. "It's just going to be expected," he said, and "you will have to make it easy, less expensive."

One user who is certainly expecting such a converged network is Denis Forsha, IT manager for MPR Associates, a 200-person engineering firm.

"What I would like to see is the capability for people to use some sort of handheld device from anywhere in the world -- global, international -- and be able to use it to get back to my central network, to be able to access any information they need, do collaboration, pick up files, drop files, anything they need to do to be able to collaborate with people.

"It would be really nice if maybe we could do voice over IP, maybe a little bit of face-to-face and videoconferencing, things like that," Forsha said. "I'm not sure if any of this will come to pass. I know it's pretty bandwidth-intensive, and it would be pretty difficult to implement,- but I think the potential is there to make this happen."

Forsha said he was a big science fiction buff when he was younger, and in the stories he read, "people could always just do that kind of instantaneous communication. And I'd really like to see that come to pass."

Schon Crouse is looking to Verizon's new Kyocera 650 card for a speed boost. Crouse is a mobility integration analyst, information services, at Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

"We're looking into those because of the faster network capabilities," Crouse said. "And you also don't have to worry about trying to find a hot spot. You don't have to worry about trying to find a phone line or a land line. So with our people, and also our transport team, we want to make it so that if they're in an ambulance, in a helicopter, in an airplane, going to go get a patient or even coming back, we want to make it so that they can keep their information up to date -- and any policies or procedures that need to happen -- automatically."

For users such as Gordon, Gonzalez, Forsha and Crouse, the future can't come fast enough.