Silicon Valley experts debate wireless future

The predictions come and go, but the future of wireless technology lurks largely in the unknown, say a panel of experts.

A panel of industry executives debated Tuesday in San Francisco the ways in which wireless technology will continue to grow and acknowledged that many advances are yet to be imagined. Among the items discussed as affecting the progress of wireless technology, the panel argued over the need for bandwidth and where the next major step will come in this still nascent market.

Looking at Japan and Europe as models of current wireless adoption, the obvious question surfaces as to what role both bandwidth and telecommunication standards will play in the development of wireless in North America. While the panelists supported the need for standards across the board, disagreement arose as to how important 3-G (third-generation) telecommunications networks will be for receiving data on a cell phone or on a personal digital assistant (PDA).

Chuck Parrish, executive vice-president at Inc., said sufficient bandwidth currently exists to accomplish most of what users either want or need to access. “Bandwidth is not the issue,” Parrish said. “It is how quickly you get a response” to requests for information. He encouraged his peers to think of wireless technology not as a browsing model but rather as a sort of surgical extraction of specific pieces of information.

Carl Yankowski, Palm Inc. CEO, suggested companies can avoid bandwidth issues by concentrating on filtering Internet content. Yankowski argued that Palm could function efficiently while operating below the capabilities of the 3-G model.

Countering the views expressed by his competitors, Ben Waldman, Microsoft Corp. vice-president in charge of Pocket PC and wireless applications, said bandwidth would indeed play a key role in the wireless surge. Waldman suggested that vendors and users alike will always find a way to do “more interesting things” with higher powered technology.

The speakers also discussed the storage capabilities of upcoming wireless devices. The panel generally agreed that within a relatively short time span local storage on handheld devices could reach the 0.5G byte to 1G byte range. While no fixed time frame was mentioned, three to four years stood as the predicted date for this advance.

A few panelists said that heavy amounts of mobile commerce are also on the horizon. Jacob Christfort, chief technology officer and vice-president of development for Inc., said the traditional approaches to advertising could be revamped in a world where the identity and location of a user is readily available.

Christfort presented a scenario in which a moviegoer exits a theatre and immediately receives a message displaying the gas stations in the area with the lowest fuel prices. While some will likely see this as a blessing, others may fear this intrusion into their daily lives.

While some disagreement did arise, the fierce competitors remained relatively cordial to each other throughout the hour and half-long proceeding. The speakers tended to agree that success with wireless technologies requires a bit of cooperation and some not-so traditional alliances.

“We all in some ways compete, but we’re all in some ways very complementary,”’s Parrish said.