Most of us take it for granted that we can check email with our mobile phones. But not long ago, this was a truly disruptive technology that changed how we did business and stayed in touch when we were away from home and the office.
Which begs the question: what new mobile technologies will emerge in the next few years that will change our lives?
That question was posed to a group of industry analysts, futurists and executives for key vendors, a group grounded in reality, not fantasy. Yet, they still suggested 13 technologies that will provide dramatically better mobile access, better devices and better applications. Some of these life-changing technologies are just around the corner while others years away.
These aren't isolated technologies. Rather, for the most part, they build on each other so that one won't be possible until another is widely available. But they all, in their own way, will significantly improve how individuals and business users are mobile.
Let's see what the future holds.
Advanced applications and devices require fast, easily affordable access, but today's 3G cellular data service remains expensive and slow. That's about to change, however, and the pace of change will remain rapid into the foreseeable future.
Disruption 1: Mobile WiMax
Mobile WiMax is already nearing release in the US and many believe it will provide the answer for mobile broadband in the UK in years to come. Experts say it has the potential to revolutionise the way we connect to the web while on the move.
"If you're looking to 2009 or 2010, WiMax will be somewhat revolutionary in terms of wireless broadband," said Brian Clark, a partner with M/C Venture Partners in Boston. "It starts to offer a DSL-level of [wireless] service."
Sprint Nextel claims typical (as opposed to peak) speeds on the network its planning to launch in the US next year will be in the 2Mbps to 4Mbps range. And while Sprint hasn't yet provided pricing details, it has said its WiMax offering will be priced similarly to DSL and cable access, which is significantly cheaper than 3G. Even more radically, at least for a company best known as a mobile operator, Sprint won't demand long-term contracts but, rather, will use a subscription model.
Verizon Wireless said it will deploy a competing technology called LTE (long-term evolution), which will have similar speeds to Sprint's Xohm network. However, most observers believe that LTE and similar technologies deployed by other carriers won't start to be available until at least 2011. By that time, proponents claim second-generation mobile WiMax will offer speeds potentially as high as 1Gbps.
Why it's important: Most of the other disruptive technologies discussed here require fast, affordable wireless access.
What could hold it back: Some of Sprint's shareholders want to throttle back its WiMax plans and put more energy into the company's faltering cellular efforts, a sentiment that led to the firing of Sprint CEO Gary Forsee. If that trend accelerates, mobile WiMax may be delayed or may not be given the resources to succeed.