The Cellular Revolution
The cellular revolution is intuitively apparent in the growth of the mobile phone market alone. In 1990, the number of users was approximately 11 million. By 2004, the number will likely be 2 billion. The next-generation devices, with access to the Internet, are sure to add to this momentum. One estimate is that the number of wireless Internet devices will exceed the number of wired Internet devices by 2005.
Phones are currently the most obvious sign of the success of wireless. Since 1996, the number of new mobile phone subscribers has exceeded the number of new fixed telephone subscribers. There are many reasons why this has happened. Mobile phones are convenient; they move with people. In addition, by their nature, they are location-aware. A mobile phone communicates with regional base stations that are at fixed locations.
Technical innovations have contributed to the success of mobile phones. The handsets have become smaller and lighter, battery life has increased, and digital technology has improved reception and allowed better use of a finite spectrum. As with many types of digital equipment, the costs associated with mobile telephones have been decreasing. In areas where competition flourishes, prices have dropped dramatically since 1996.
In many geographic areas, mobile telephones are the only economical way to provide phone service to the population. Operators can erect base stations quickly and inexpensively, compared with digging up ground to lay copper in harsh terrain.
Mobile telephones are only the tip of the cellular revolution. Increasingly, new types of wireless devices are being introduced. These new devices have access to the Internet. They include personal organizers and telephones, but now they have web access, instant messaging, email, and other services available on the Internet. Wireless devices in automobiles allow users to download maps and directions on demand. Soon, the devices may be able to call for help when an accident has occurred or perhaps notify the user of the lowest-priced fuel in the immediate area. Other conveniences will be available as well. For example, refrigerators may one day be able to order groceries over the Internet to replace consumed items.
The first rush to wireless was for voice. Now, the attention is on data. Within five years wireless data service is projected to be a multibillion-dollar market. A big part of this market is the "wireless" Internet. Wireless users will use the Internet differently than fixed users. Wireless devices have limited displays and input capabilities compared with typical fixed devices such as the PC. Transactions and messaging will be the rule instead of lengthy browsing sessions. Because wireless devices are location aware, information can be tailored to the geographic location of the user. Information will be able to find users, instead of users searching for information.