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Can Digital Photography Save 3G Wireless?

The fact that 802.11b technology hasn't made its way into digital cameras is disappointing. It seems an obvious fit. But digital cameras are making their way into data-enabled cell phones capable of communicating on 2.5G GPRS and CDMA 1X cellular-data networks. So it's not a stretch to predict that cell phone-camera combos will be the killer app that saves cellular data networks from failure.

Back in 2001, when the wireless LAN market was in its infancy and NICs cost $300, we predicted home applications would drive the market for this technology. Because of the high prices and product complexity at that time, some laughed at us. But, sure enough, the wireless home market caught on. And the product volumes helped push prices down to today's ridiculously low levels. More significantly, this bottom-up demand has put pressure on IT professionals to deploy similar networks in the workplace.

We'll go out on another limb and predict that digital photography will have the same effect on cellular data networks. Using available compression technologies, you can send moderate-resolution digital photos and crude video quite efficiently. Tons of business applications, including real estate, insurance, public safety and medicine, are conceivable.

It's convergence at its best, a natural fit that has both business and consumer appeal. Some first-generation products making their way into the market are beginning to showcase that appeal. Nokia's GPRS-enabled 7650, for example, will have techies begging for a look. Newer models on the way will provide basic video capabilities, too.

Expect a slew of new products. We're particularly interested in some of the new smart phones that will run a revision of Microsoft's Pocket PC software. Other products to watch include Hitachi's Multimedia Communicator NC1 Pocket PC, which sports both a digital camera and a keyboard, and Samsung's i700, which provides similar features and capabilities. Although these products are a little overpriced--common of first-generation offerings--we expect prices to fall well below $500 within a year. That's a lot of computing and entertainment value.