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12/15/2011
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Mobility 2012: The Wireless Analytics Revolution

The biggest trend in wireless and mobility for 2012 doesn't have a lot to do with radio technology, but it means everything to the future of what remains the hottest corner of IT.

If there's one term that comes up around here practically every day, it's analytics. You might think that analysts of wireless and mobile technology spend all day in discussions of the obscure alphabet soup of our curious little end of IT, and such used to be true. Arguing the fine points of OFDMA vs. CDMA and MIMO as applied to LTE has its value, but, just as we've seen with mobile operations management and enterprise mobility management, the benefits of any innovation in information technology need to be gauged in a framework more related to the productivity of people than the productivity of bits flying through the air.

And the key to all of that, and the most important theme in mobility for 2012, I believe, is analytics. Now, at face value, there's really nothing new here; after all, isn't analytics just another name for data mining or artificial intelligence or whatever all that cool stuff was called in the past? Well, yes and no. Analytics at its core is about insight and the extraction of meaning and value, and, reducing the capability to its minimal form, everyone is familiar with the wide range of management reports generated by just about every system that keeps IT humming.

But the analysis in this case is really being performed by (typically-oversubscribed, I think we can all agree) humans, isn't it? It's one thing to plow through a multi-page report filled with charts and graphs, and quite another to see the patterns running through the data, and even more still to be able to apply all of that to the formulation of an optimal strategy and take action based on the insights gleaned. And, let's face it, busy IT managers today simply don't have the time to put their feet up and think about what all that data means. The question, then, is begged: Why not apply analytics intelligently and automatically, cutting to the chase without involving more human CPU cycles?

What's at work, then, with Analytics 2012, is the new power liberated by automated systems, imitating human decision-making under more focused and dispassionate circumstances than is possible for most of us, and evolving to the point where insights can be realized and actions taken without human intervention. Previously called heuristics, a branch of AI, analytics promises much smarter and cost-effective mobile networks going forward. Running out of capacity on your wireless LAN? Channels and power levels can be automatically reconfigured today--so how about we add the capability to automatically specify the deployment of additional access points and graphically show us where these should be installed? Minimizing telecoms expense by shifting in-building cellular calls to Wi-Fi is a great idea--so let's just automate that by enforcing policy without the need for that painful call from the finance department. Optimizing traffic flows on the fly? Ditto. The result in each case is higher performance, improved capacity, and, thus, improved user productivity--the primary goal of networks everywhere. Note that the value here is being realized via upper-level services rather the more traditional Layer-1 improvements, and those consequential cost, performance, and productivity benefits will be realized by applications across the board--retail, fleet management, network and operations management, and many more. Extend the vision just a little, and IT itself will be revolutionized by the power of automated analytics.

Oh, sure, we'll see some amazing new radios in 2012 (gigabit wireless LANs, anyone?), and wireless technology will continue to advance as it always does. But the most important development in wireless and mobility for the coming year will be automating the optimization of wireless and mobile resources. And, as the fallout from the recession will be with us for some time, the fact that the savings realized here will in many cases pay for the needed upgrades in software and systems is simply the icing on the cake.

Craig Mathias is a Principal with Farpoint Group, a wireless and mobile advisory firm based in Ashland, MA. Craig is an internationally recognized expert on wireless communications and mobile computing technologies. He is a well-known industry analyst and frequent speaker at industry conferences and trade shows.

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