IBM Aims to Bring Order to Chaotic Wi-Fi RevolutionBy John Pallatto | Print
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Executives leading IBM's wireless technology initiatives say the company is ready to help customers deal with the chaos that arises from dealing with the explosive demand for Wi-Fi access.
SAN JOSE, Calif.IBM's goal in the burgeoning Wi-Fi industry is to help customers deal with the chaos arising from the explosive growth in demand for Wi-Fi access, said James Keegan, IBM's vice president for Global Pervasive/Wireless e-business solutions.
Speaking at Jupitermedia Corp.'s Wi-Fi Planet conference here, Keegan said that to help make pervasive wireless computing a reality the computer industry has to work through the "chaos" arising from the challenge of integrating the diverse technologies required to slake the insatiable demand for new wireless services.
People around the world want to implement a dizzying array of wireless applications, including everything from Wi-Fi on high-speed commuter trains to having Wi-Fi Internet access along with their lattes at Starbucks Coffee.
The problem is not that the technology isn't available to create these applications, Keegan said. The problem is that system architects haven't completely thought out how to assemble all the components that will support wireless applications that are reliable, effective and secure, he said.
"Our objective is to help you address these challenges and address the chaos," Keegan said. However, IBM doesn't pretend to have all the answers. It will take a diverse "ecosystem" of software, hardware and middleware producers to bring all the pieces together, he said.
Both consumers and the industry are trying to move toward the same goals, Keegan noted. They want nationwide Wi-Fi coverage with roaming capabilities just as they have with their cell phones. National media companies like Time-Warner Inc. and many other enterprises are looking for new ways "to deliver more content down to end users whether it is entertainment or in a pure data processing environment," he said.
The users of a wide array of new devices, whether it is cell phones, handheld computers, laptops or RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) devices, are competing for access and bandwidth on Wi-Fi networks.
A major new wireless device is introduced in the market every six weeks, Keegan observed. And an emerging "wireless generation" wants to download everything from cell phone ring tones to movies, television shows and games.
Computer users want nothing less than the ability to gravitate to a public Wi-Fi access point that provides "all you can eat" data access wherever and whenever they want, he said.
However companies, municipalities and industries that are actively working to implement Wi-Fi on a broad scale are also helping to make pervasive wireless a reality.
For example, the Hong Kong railway system came to IBM looking for a way to implement wireless Internet access on its commuter trains, Keegan said. Metro Stores, a German supermarket chain, is using RFID technology to track goods as they leave the store shelves. Each one of these early applications helps prove the practicality of Wi-Fi technology and will help make pervasive wireless a reality, Keegan said.
There are several market forces at work driving the demand for wireless broadband services, said Chris Couper, IBM's chief technology officer for wireless solutions.
Chief among them in the United States is that the federal government has endorsed broadband wireless to promote economic, educational and social development. President Bush in particular has "pegged wireless broadband as one of the key technologies" that will help drive future economic groups.
It's not just cell phones and computers that are sucking up bandwidth. Sensors that record a wide range of data are going to be communicating via wireless networks in the years ahead, he said.
While there may be millions of PC users and billions of cell phones in use worldwide, there is a potential for literally trillions of sensors to being put to work to track the performance of a wide range of machines or electronic devices.
These sensors will be smart enough to detect problems and record the status of the systems they monitor. They will also act to fix the problem and "will only tell the back-end systems what they achieved rather than what they did" to resolve the problem, he said.
Wireless will become pervasive because an ever increasing number of people will constantly be looking for ways to wirelessly log onto the Internet wherever they are.
They want to log on in virtually any public space, whether they are traveling, on a business or school campus, or are effectively "held captive" in what Couper called a "wall garden"a convention center, train, plane or automobile where they have no choice but to stay in one place for perhaps hours at a time.
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