Bell Labs' George Rittenhouse On The Future of Wireless Applications

Q&A with wireless research executive offers a peek at what we can expect from next-generation wireless apps.
InformationWeek: What about GPS? Will location-awareness will be an important element?

Rittenhouse: That's right. That's one of the key aspects of wireless. There is a powerful location aspect to it. So local content is important to you. For example, if you get into your car, the network notices it is 6:30 and the Net switches from your phone to your car. Then you'll get information in your car that says that the freeway you're about to get on is backed up so you might not want to get on it. So there is all of that kind of stuff going on, and a lot of that work is going on in the labs. It's about the whole convergence of applications and localization. And equally important is personalization since you are embedded you may not want all of the information available to you, so it will be filtered by your preferences. Or you may not want everyone knowing where you are sometimes. But it'll be okay for your family to be able to see where you are, but not all of your acquaintances or co-workers. There is a lot of research going on now on how to do this.

InformationWeek: What about all of the standards: 3G, 4G, and WiMax. Will disparate networks be a problem?

Rittenhouse: The industry is changing from what used to be a standard rollout. We went from analog to 2G to now 3G. But the pace has quickened. But we see a lot of activity in that space. The good thing, though, is that Moore's Law continues to push more and more processing capability into the handsets, so you can have dual-mode, tri-mode, and quad-mode handsets to switch networks. But you also have the base stations in the network better designed to adjust to new technologies and converging all of these capabilities so all of these networks share the same infrastructure.

One of the more interesting things to come out in the communication area is IMS--that is, the IP Multimedia Subsystem. So while the network access may be different using Bluetooth 802.X, 3G, cable, phone lines, the control will be constant. The apps you use will be the same and the control function is routed to whatever network-access is present.

InformationWeek: So users won't care what network infrastructure they're using? We'll hop seamlessly from one network to another?

Return to The Future Of Software homepageRittenhouse: Yes, and that's happening, but, clearly, as we move forward that will continue. The user wants two things: You don't want to know what these wireless acronyms mean, and you want it to work seamlessly so you are able to go from the house to your car to work to your friend's home and have the same features and the same stuff available to you. It will all be transparent to the user.

It will be the connection of apps that can drive things in new ways, not just the availability of voice and video. It will be the connection between applications that will be important. Before, maybe one application was used at home on a wireline, while another was used wirelessly on a phone. But it's when the two can be brought together and the technologies mixed in brand new ways that will have unpredictable consequences.

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