Two top trends worth tracking

Now that everyone’s back from holiday and fully recovered from any overindulgences in food and drink over the Christmas season, it’s time to take a serious look at what the next 11 months will bring in terms of hot technologies and trends.

One obvious candidate is wireless. Wireless has been hot for a while, with 2.5G cellular networks and Wi-Fi hotspots offering mobile workers ever-broader coverage areas and bandwidth increases. But 2006 promises to be a particularly big year for wireless, with all three major Canadian wireless operators rolling out their next-generation 3G networks and Wi-Max finally putting in an appearance.

Wi-Max has been surrounded by hype for a while now, but with a standard finally ratified, 2006 should be the year that we finally see some big Wi-Max deployments. One major initiative’s already been unveiled in Alberta, with Nortel and wireless services provider Netago Wireless signing on to construct a broadband wireless network in a rural region covering about 8,000 square miles.

What will be interesting to see is how Wi-Max and 3G coexist. Some believe the two technologies could ultimately compete with one another. Others believe they’ll coexist, with Wi-Max serving up broadband access to computers in rural areas that have few other options and 3G providing high-speed connections to a range of mobile devices in major metro markets.

It’s unlikely there will be much, if any, competition between the two technologies, at least in 2006. Dual-mode devices that can roam between 3G networks and Wi-Fi or Wi-Max networks are on the way, but likely won’t be widely available in 2006. Even when they do become available, any company that wants to go head-to-head against 3G with a Wi-Fi or Wi-Max offering would be competing against some pretty deep-pocketed providers in Bell Mobility, Telus Mobility and Rogers Wireless and would need to be prepared for a lengthy and potentially costly price war.

Another trend that’s becoming apparent for 2006 is network hardware manufacturers throwing more intelligence and functionality into their gear. Again, this is something that’s been going on for some time. Most network boxes, for example, now include security features and functionality that used to reside on separate devices.

Cisco, late last year, made it very clear that the company plans to continue baking more features into its boxes when it unveiled its SONA (Service-Oriented Network Architecture) strategy. What Cisco plans to do is embed some funtions used in SOA schemes, such as identity management, in ASICs located in Cisco switches, instead of having that functionality run on servers, as it currently does. Cisco exec-utives believe that having more application functionality in the network will speed up SOA processes.

What will be interesting to see here is whether Cisco’s plans will put the networking giant on a collision course with some of its partners, such as IBM and HP. Cisco officials believe there will be overlap, but don’t expect any drastic confrontations. Some industry observers aren’t as certain, though, and believe Cisco’s continuing push to add more functionality to its equipment will ultimately pit the company in a confrontation with its software-centric partners.

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