Innovation

The wireless mega-opportunity

Written by Rick Spence

Frank Ogden compares Canada’s wireless marketplace to an empty supermarket with just two shelves of food. The true promise of wireless, says Vancouver-based Ogden, the 84-year-old dean of Canadian futurists, is not checking e-mail in meetings, but adopting a wide range of new mobile services and applications that will change the way you do business.

Over the next five years, mobile computers are expected to account for half of all computers sold, up from 25% today. Plus, you’ll have a wider variety of mobile devices to choose from, from the tablet or notebook PC to wireless-equipped PDAs, smartphones (more geared to accessing data than entering it) and even Internet-accessing wristwatches.

This will make life easier for individuals and companies, whether they’re travelling overseas or across town. With short-range wireless networks, you’ll be able to print documents to a secure printer in almost any location—airports, clients’ offices or Tim Hortons. You’ll never be without a crucial file at a meeting, because you’ll be able to access all your records over the office WiFi network.

Wireless logistics control and customer management will become crucial. Companies will use mobile hardware and custom software to track inventory, while roving salesforces will call up customer records, review maintenance histories, access pricing, report on availability and print out contracts without ever setting foot in the home office.

Yes, early adopters can do much of this now. But the growth of Internet hot spots and third-generation broadband networks, along with falling costs for mobile hardware and a surge of customized software applications, will move wireless computing from niche product to everyday tool. “Within five years, you’ll see a critical mass being achieved,” predicts Craig Read, IT director of Toronto-based M-Trilogix Inc. and director of the Toronto Wireless User Group. “The ROI is quite high in some of these investments,” he adds, “so companies will see an increase in productivity and generate more profits.”

Look for airtime costs to tumble as wireless converges with Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), which lets you manage your calls over the Net rather than using the telcos’ proprietary networks. VOIP can cut businesses’ phone costs by 50%, notes Read, “and in the next five to 10 years we’ll see the same impact on mobile workers. It’ll reshape the competitive landscape for telcos. They’ll have to reorganize their cost structures.”

But mobile data won’t just mean e-mail and databases. It will bring whole new communication opportunities to your business. Text messaging lets you check in anytime with friends and colleagues, or remind all employees that expense accounts are due. (It will also become either a valuable advertising medium or an annoying intrusion, depending whether you’re sending or receiving.) Mapping services and location-based marketing will help you find who and what you need (or help others find you). The long-predicted live video call may actually catch on. And your wireless device will become an entertainment centre, bringing you data on demand, your favourite music, movies and online games, and other, still unknown, forms of content.

Pay special attention to these emerging applications—no one knows which will take off. As Read notes, no experts foresaw that selling ringtones would become a US$2-billion industry. “Teenagers will steal music from Kazaa but pay to download ringtones. It just makes no sense at all.”

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com