It’s human nature to get overexcited about “the next big thing,” and wireless is no different. With Intel about to debut Centrino, its new laptop Pentium that embeds WiFi directly into the chip, the tipping point is coming fast. According to some prognosticators, we could see over 40 million WiFi devices in less than five years.
Sound familiar? After Microsoft added TCP/IP to Windows 95, suddenly, anybody could get on the Internet — and did. With hindsight, we know that the sudden presence of tens of millions of new web users didn’t necessarily create new Internet-based industries, but prodded existing businesses to add new online channels. The biggest change was forcing companies to get serous about multichannel strategies, blending the customer experience, regardless of whether the interaction transpired via phone, web, email, chat, snail mail, or face-to-face. And, the economic downturn notwithstanding, that has created new opportunities for companies to add new value to existing customer relationships.
Ted Schell, chairman of Cometa Networks (a WiFi network wholesaler startup backed by IBM, AT&T, and Intel) predicted a similar future for WiFi, viewing it as a natural extension of the mobile workplace. He insisted that WiFi providers would succeed only if they built services that could fit into existing carrier offerings, such as VPN, rather than create the newest iteration of a CLEC (competitive local telecom exchange carrier).
According to Schell, WiFi providers targeting corporate markets must guarantee carrier- grade service levels and security, embed connectivity within existing corporate VPN offerings, and make the service available at distances no greater than a 5-minute walk or ride from where employees are likely to be during the workday.
As we noted a couple months back , WiFi will be the next little thing, with hotels a logical starting point for offering services. In this economy, it can become all too easy to hype any new technology that promises market sizes in the tens of millions. Yes, it might create a new opportunity for personal firewall vendors. However, more disruptive technologies like VoIP might be enabled by WiFi, but not exclusively tied to it. Like the Internet before it, WiFi won’t change everything, but instead, add valuable extensions to what’s already there.