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Will broadband wireless technology change the way we do business, or is it culturally impossible?

Very soon, you’ll begin to hear terms like I-mode and 3G with increasing frequency. The move toward the next generation of wireless technology is in full swing, and the implications may well change the way we do business–but will we adapt?

I-mode is a service developed by NTT DoCoMo that is already in use today in Japan–it serves 17 million people. It offers always-on wireless Internet access, e-mail, entertainment, and business-related content for digital cellular phones. The monthly cost is approximately $2.75 plus fees that are based on the amount of data that the user uploads and downloads.

3G (short for third-generation wireless) refers to the next generation of wireless technology, though it is expected to support both mobile devices and fixed location wireless activities. Business users will be able to use the technology for voice, data, video, and remote control applications. Expected broadband support will let 3Gers access the Internet at speeds of approximately 2Mbps–whether moving or standing still.

NTT DoCoMo’s success with I-mode in Japan is natural given the dynamics of the country. Internet access is generally expensive and mobile phone service is cheaper than fixed phone lines. Plus, many Japanese do not own a personal computer due to space constraints. The result is, I-mode has proven quite useful to the country.

The makers of I-mode are now investing in European and U.S. providers (as minority stakeholders) in an effort to gain market share outside of Japan. Their most recent investment includes AT&T Wireless. NTT DoCoMo expects to begin rolling out broadband wireless service in Tokyo this spring–a full year ahead of several of its competitors.

For example, Vodafone hopes to roll out broadband wireless services in limited markets during 2002. AT&T also expects to support 3G, though not until 2003. This gives NTT DoCoMo a leg up in the broadband wireless race.

But wait … will U.S. businesses and consumers really take to I-mode or 3G? Is there a compelling reason to do so? It may make sense for consumers who are using dial-up wireless access to the Internet to adopt I-mode or 3G, but the number of U.S. consumers using wireless Internet access today is very low compared to other countries.

And, we already have plenty of other options. We are used to using PCs, notebooks, PDAs, and mobile devices. We have affordable access to broadband technologies. Our comfort with bigger screen sizes may also lead us away from adopting broadband wireless options.

Broadband wireless has some interesting implications for businesses, too. We have already invested in wired networking technologies, and our applications have been geared toward this medium.

As costs for broadband wireless come down–expected between 2003 and 2005–and we have the opportunity to adapt business applications to the new connectivity, it may well become a desirable investment. In fact, once broadband wireless is widely available, I believe you’ll see the advent of a new breed of business application that takes full advantage of the flexibility that wireless technologies offer.

How do you think broadband wireless technology might affect your business in the future? And, as a consumer, do you see any compelling reason to adopt it? Write to me.

Maggie Biggs has more than 15 years of business and IT experience and frequently accesses the Internet via mobile devices while stuck in traffic.

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