Opinion: Fearless forecasts

Prediction 1: Wireless Ethernet, also known as IEEE 802.11b or Wi-Fi, will continue to cover ground like a stampeding brontosaurus in Jurassic Park III. As it becomes ubiquitous, wireless carriers will start to hurt. Why? Because as Wi-Fi gets incorporated into corporate networks, gets deployed in public places, and even becomes part of the design and construction of new homes, VOIP (voice over IP) will become the killer app that closes the deal for Wi-Fi installation.

In five years, the solution to poor cellular service will be not to use it. With enough Wi-Fi access points deployed, VOIP phones will reign supreme and cell phones will take their place alongside pagers as devices to be used only in emergencies. Watch as this begins to play out in 2002.

Prediction 2: The worldwide movement toward what some call Global IP will pick up speed, as more companies abandon their multiple networks in favour of a single IP network. You will see some major companies rip out their old networks. Dow Chemical Co. was the first. Who will be next?

Prediction 3: My friend Barry Libert, a consultant at Waltham, Mass.-based Seurat Co., always tells me that over time everything becomes a commodity. Now we are on the cusp of commoditization with handhelds. In 2002, more and more legitimate players will be offering devices, and the competition will drive down prices drastically. A few weeks ago, consumer electronics giant Sharp entered the fray with the Zaurus SL-5500 that runs Linux and Java and uses the same StrongARM chip used in the Pocket PCs (and which, by the way, will also be used in Palm devices).

With handhelds all offering the same functionality at the same price, the real fight will be between the enterprise application server vendors – IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., and Oracle Corp. – that want to be sure their app servers can reach out to a wireless platform. This leads me to the next prediction.

Prediction 4: In total ignorance of why companies really buy what they buy, the major app server vendors will try and sweeten the deal by either a) buying one of the handheld manufacturers, or b) just giving away handheld devices to their customers. Look for Palm Inc. and Research in Motion Ltd. in particular to be swallowed up.

Finally, please note that these are totally irresponsible predictions based on observation and not on any inside information. Bear that in mind before you call your broker. For the last three years, for example, I have been predicting the demise of Amazon.com as an independent company. I was wrong. But this year, I say it again, and I will even add that the buyer will be Borders Group Inc., AOL Time Warner Inc., or eBay Inc.

Thank you for reading and for sending me your thoughts. Have a good new year, and if you think these predictions are off the wall, send something better to ephraim_schwartz@infoworld.com.

Ephraim Schwartz is an editor at large in InfoWorld’s news department. Get this column free via e-mail each week. Sign up at www.iwsubscribe.com/newsletters.