The top 12 mobile and wireless issues for 2008: Part 1

Wi-Fi, network security and convergence will be hot and there's a bumper year ahead, says Craig Mathias of Farpoint Group.

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Well, it's that time of year again. Reflection and forecasts come with the season, and this year is no exception. I started assembling a 'top 10' list of the key issues in mobile and wireless that will shape the industry in 2008, but I quickly discovered that the top 10 could easily be the top 50 or so.

There's never been more going on in the mobile and wireless industry than there is now. I managed to condense this unwieldy number down to 12, although prioritising them is still a work in progress. Nonetheless, I present the first six this week, and the remainder in my next column. I hope you find this list to be good food for thought, and while less caloric than the rest of what we consume over the holidays, no less important.

1. Picking the right tool for the job

As the saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Such is the case with wireless technologies and the products that result from them. Vendors like to pitch their products as all you'll ever need. But wireless is a collection of technologies, and there is no one-size-fits-all. It's all about four key elements: availability, throughput (for data), capacity and price.

The carriers will be working hard in 2008 to improve their networks, even though in the US they face massive new expenses related to spectrum acquisition (the 700 MHz auctions start in late January) and continual technological evolution and the upgrades this entails. Look for lots of talk about 4G continuing in 2008, but don't expect critical mass here until 2011 or 2012. And don't expect to find WiMax in digital cameras - Wi-Fi works just fine there, and will for a very long time. OK, maybe ultrawideband.

2. Think network, not wireless, security

The focus on wireless security alone is over. It's time to think end-to-end. Mobility and wireless provide the motivation, but securing the air alone is inadequate. Good wired security solutions apply to wireless as well and involve encrypting sensitive data wherever it resides, strong authentication (ideally, two-factor) with both devices and data, and end-to-end VPNs.

Do we need a "mobile" or "wireless" VPN? This subject will be debated quite a bit in 2008, and the answer is - it depends. Some IT shops will insist on such a solution for local management and control. But I expect big interest in SSL VPNs in 2008, and they could become the preferred wireless option as well.

3. Wi-Fi forever

Let me be clear: Nothing replaces Wi-Fi anytime soon, and maybe never. Not WiMax. Not femtocells. Nothing. The continuing technological evolution of Wi-Fi is at once remarkable (hundreds of megabits per second in a WLAN? Really?) and eminently predictable as part of the faster/better/cheaper that defines high tech.

Expect huge interest in 802.11n in 2008, ahead of final ratification of the formal standard in mid-2009. It's here. It works. Moreover, Wi-Fi is as close as we get to a universal, global wireless standard. It works in pretty much the same way everywhere, across the enterprise, the home and public spaces. Metroscale deployments will chug along in 2008, and hot spots aren't going away either. And the folks at 802.11 have even more innovations in the works. Gigabit Wi-Fi? Yes, but not until 2010 or so.

4. Think "rate vs. range," not rate alone

I find that many make the mistake of believing wireless performance numbers that are really no more than what vendor marketing departments guarantee their products will never exceed. I generally suggest de-rating theoretical numbers by 50% to 66% just to make sure a given application will work.

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