Monday, December 25, 2006

2006 in wireless

CNET has a year in review for mobile communications. To summarize, the big stories in 2006 were the growth of WiMax, the progress made in mobile phones that can switch from cellular to WiFi seamlessly, and the advent of entertainment, search, and (the inevitable) advertising into the mobile space.

Among other major advancements that I can think of - the tremendous growth of the so-called municipal WiFi networks. Muni WiFi is now already up and running in several cities in the United States. Going by my own experience and from other anecdotal stories, these networks are still in a stage where they are used as more of a backup option by most customers who have other, paid services for regular Internet access. However, things are looking good gauging by the competition that cities seem to be getting in terms of bidders for their plans for offering such services.

Then there was the recent news about the FCC plans for creating a public safety network using wireless networks, partly motivated by the failure of the communication infrastructure during the 9/11 attacks and the Katrina hurricane. It took a while but nonetheless, it's a welcome announcement. The plans are to use the 700 MHz band given that it is conducive to long-distance communication and offers good wall penetration, always a desirable thing in case of an emergency.

Add to that the announcement by Emirates airlines that they have become the first in the world to introduce in-flight mobile use. The rates are more in line with a regular cellphone service with international roaming rates unlike the exorbitant per-minute charges of the in-seat satellite phones. This would definitely be very useful for jet-setting executives who travel a lot and like to get work done in the air. Now, how it might affect the other passengers to have to hear cellphone babble 30,000 feet in the air is another story.

GPS seems to have hit its sweet-spot this year if one were to go by the TV commercials and print ads luring you to go out and buy a GPS so that you never get lost. Some of the newer cellphones and handheld PDAs come with in-built GPS.

Overall, the wireless world has seen spectacular progress this year and not just in terms of exciting new technology, but also in that that more and more people now have access to this and are actively using it.

Look forward to an exciting 2007.