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Wireless in 2005, Take 2

WiMAX: WiMAX will make the transition from promise to reality during
2005 with two parallel developments. First, a number of companies will
release WiMAX chipsets that will then be incorporated into commercial
products. Although Intel is expected to be the dominant provider of
WiMAX silicon, competition is critical to ongoing innovation.
Competitive dynamics in the Wi-Fi chip market played a key role in
driving up technical improvements and driving down prices. Let's hope
similar market dynamics take place with WiMAX. The second major
development relates to certification provided by the WiMAX Forum. Like
any new network technology, product interoperability is key to adoption,
and the WiMAX certification will help advance that goal. It's important
to note that in 2005 most WiMAX products will be used to develop fixed
wireless services by enterprises and service providers. Portable and
mobile WiMAX won't happen in 2005.


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Mesh Networking: Wireless mesh technology has great long-term potential
for enabling the delivery of network services to locations where
physical backhaul cabling is not practical. Mesh is one of the key
enablers for metro Wi-Fi deployments, which are being touted across the
country. Today's wireless mesh market is still fairly immature, and the
performance trade-offs required to use wireless backhaul are often
significant, particularly because a node is more than three mesh hops
from a wired connection. We can expect to see some improvement in mesh
efficiency during 2005, and the availability of more spectrum in the
5-GHz band will also help overcome some current performance problems.
But until standards for this technology emerge, you can expect prices to
stay fairly high and interoperability to be non-existent. While the IEEE
has begun work on a mesh standard, don't expect anything solid until
late 2006.

Ultra-Wideband: Ultra-wideband is a potentially disruptive new wireless
technology that delivers very high-performance wireless network services
over relatively short distances. Some view it as Bluetooth on steroids,
but its significance rests not only in its higher speed but also in the
fact that it has forced government policy-makers to consider new
perspectives on traditional models of spectrum regulation. As its name
implies, ultra-wideband devices will use much wider blocks of spectrum
to deliver data and will share this spectrum with other wireless
devices. This hints at future regulatory models that will leverage
emerging cognitive radio technologies to facilitate the intelligent
sharing of spectrum by multiple applications. While ultra-wideband
products will make their way to market in 2005, the lack of a single
standard will act to stifle broad market adoption.

RFID: RFID is probably one of the least understood wireless technologies
outside of key vertical markets. In its simplest form, RFID provides a
more sophisticated version of the bar-code technology that adorns nearly
every retail product you purchase today. However, while scanners must be
placed in very close directional proximity to the product to read
car-codes, RFID enables scanning across a broader physical area. Key
early markets for RFID include large-scale logistics such as military
applications as well as supply chain. Wal-Mart has gained significant
attention with its efforts to add RFID tags to product palates, a move
that is expected to significantly enhance the company's product
distribution efficiencies. Expect those kinds of initiatives to gain
momentum during 2005. Future applications of RFID with tags attached to
or embedded in specific products will come later, in 2006 and 2007.