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The Wireless Survivor's Guide For 2006

It will be full speed ahead for wireless in 2006, with 3G, Wi-Fi and wireless broadband technologies setting the pace for the enterprise. But which technologies will stay afloat?

In last year's Survivor's Guide, we predicted several key developments in the wireless industry. For the most part, reality mirrored expectations, with one or two exceptions. We forecasted increased momentum in the wireless-enabled mobile device market--and we weren't disappointed. Newer and vastly improved smartphones, equipped with more power and enhanced ease of use, have appeared. Unfortunately, with that increased power came increased complexity, and enterprise IT pros are still struggling to figure out how to deliver key wireless services, like mobile e-mail, while keeping users, support staff and bean counters happy.

In Wi-Fi, we suggested that new standards for security and QoS would break down barriers to enterprise adoption. The North American enterprise Wi-Fi market has been picking up steam, according to Synergy Research Group, with revenue increasing by 14 percent between the first and second quarters of 2005; but globally the news hasn't been as positive, with declining revenue in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Asia/Pacific offset somewhat by increasing sales in Latin America. Some of this sluggishness is attributable to declining component costs, which is always good news for technology buyers, but some of it is likely a result of uncertainty about future wireless standards.

We missed the mark in predicting that 2005 would be a breakout year for VoWLAN (voice over IP over WLAN). The anticipated growth in enterprise VoWLAN products didn't happen--this market is still defined as "niche."

Our prediction of broader rollout of 3G wide area wireless services was mostly on target. Verizon and Sprint both added EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized) services to their networks. Cingular lagged a bit as it tried to digest its acquisition of AT&T Wireless, but it has begun to offer high-speed data services using GSM/HSDPA (Global System for Mobile Communications/High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) technology. A wide array of smartphone devices was released, some offering support for 2.5G networks and an increasing number equipped with 3G, and notebook computer vendors like Sony and Lenovo began to embed cellular data modems in some products. We also saw some price erosion, with unlimited data plans for EV-DO falling to $60 per month and even more aggressive pricing for smartphone devices. Wireless e-mail is still the driving app for enterprise wide-area wireless, but we're beginning to see expanding rollouts of line-of-business applications, particularly within industries that have highly mobile workforces. Some businesses that would fit the bill include field-service organizations, engineering services firms and any organizations that have large direct sales forces.

Beyond Wi-Fi and 3G, WiMAX got lots of buzz, but the high expectations haven't been realized. We predicted the emergence of the first WiMAX-certified devices in 2005, and that will probably happen early in 2006. However, though WiMAX is likely to have a long, healthy future, today's technology is more tactical than strategic, especially in the North American market, where the demand for fixed wireless is generally limited to rural areas. Still, WiMAX has gained market momentum and it is likely to do so at an increased pace in 2006.