2007: A Look Ahead
Dusting off the good ole crystal ball, Unstrung editors look ahead with bold and unflinching predictions for wireless technologies and companies in 2007. All predictions guaranteed accurate or your money back!
- In-Flight Connectivity: Connexions, the inflight wireless service launched by Boeing in 2000 and abandoned by the aircraft giant in August, looks to be all-the-way-dead as a group led by Lufthansa and Panasonic now says it is delaying plans to create a transition plan for the expensive system. Nevertheless, Denver-based airborne communications provider Aircell Inc. is moving forward with plans for inflight WiFi. Having outbid Verizon Wireless and other major carriers air-to-ground bandwidth in the FCC spectrum auctions last summer, AirCell says it will announce agreements to install WiFi services on board commercial planes by the end of the first quarter of 2007, with actual service following by end-of-year. (See AirCell Set for Takeoff.)
- Wireless Brain Implants: Leaping from experimental therapy for extreme cases, such as quadriplegics and severe epilepsy, to more common maladies like Parkinson's, schizophrenia, and even less specific personality disorders like depression and insomnia, brain-implant technology will find battlefield applications as well, leading to a debate about the ethics of this powerful new science. At least one remarkable new wireless brain-implant device will make a splash in the tech press in the second half of 2007.
- Sat-Radio Sellout: Drawing new customers and rave reviews but hemorrhaging cash, one of the dueling satellite-radio companies -- either XM or Sirius, likely the latter -- will be bought out by a major carrier or media company. The synergies and business-model affinities between, say, a big cable operator and sat-radio are too obvious, and too appealing, to be ignored. Time-Warner Satellite, anyone? (See Sat Radio: Looking Up.)
- Muni Mesh Mess: At least one major lawsuit will arise between a U.S. city and its municipal-wireless provider. The expectations set up by the muni-wireless industry -- which includes startups making unsustainable promises and striking untenable deals almost as fast as they are losing money -- are simply not going to be fulfilled via WiFi networking gear, which is a powerful technology with some painful, and unavoidable, limitations. If you're a city official in a medium-sized city like Sacramento, better start consulting with the guys and gals in legal. (See Imbroglio by the Bay and Mesh Mess Sinks Sacramento Net.)
- Sprint's New Flag: Falling further behind its rivals and with Alltel Corp. (NYSE: AT) beginning to nip at its heels, Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) will make a radical strategic shift, abandoning its fruitless quest to keep up in consumer subscriber growth and becoming a provider of high speed data services to consumers and enterprises (focusing on its EV-DO "Rev A" network and its planned nationwide WiMax system) and a wholesaler of network connections to other carriers. (See Rev A USA and Sprint Goes WiMax.)
- IP Oh-No: Emboldened by the confidence of Aruba Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: ARUN) and Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR), a number of wireless companies, especially in the enterprise WiFi market, will try to go public in the first two or three quarters of 2007. Just as the disastrous IPO of Vonage did for VOIP providers in 2006, the success or failure of these public offerings will set the tone for the corporate wireless market in the last few months of the year and on into 2008. (See Aruba Files for IPO.)
- Race to WiMax: The second half of next year will see the beginnings of a power struggle over which carrier will be the first to offer mobile WiMax services in the U.S. -- early leader Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) or upstart Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR). Craig McCaw's new wireless venture has made it clear in the latest IPO filing that it will aggressively seek to roll out mobile WiMax in 2007 if possible, while Sprint intends to launch its first markets at the end of 2007 and start the rollout proper in 2008. Sprint, however, likes to be first with new network technology. (See Clearwire Takes Another Cut at IPO.)
- Carriers Get Converged: 2007 will be the year that the majority of U.S. carriers finally get hip to WiFi and fixed/mobile convergence. Fearing a further erosion in the average revenues they can charge for voice if they let users roam onto public WiFi networks, the big carriers aside from T-Mobile US Inc. have been content to leave FMC to startups and specialists up until now. This will change in 2007, partly because far more dual-mode handsets will become available, but mostly because carriers will have even more to fear from "good-enough" free phone services such as Skype Ltd. , which will increasingly take advantage of the mobility WiFi offers. (See Fixed/Mobile Handover Vexes Carriers.)
- Hold That Call: Wide-area VOIP call quality and security will become a much bigger issue in 2007 than ever before as CDMA Rev A and WiMax network launches push the technology to the forefront. Expect a major mobile network outage to be blamed on VOIP-related issues before the end of the year.
- Ow, My Funny Bone: "Wii Elbow" will replace "BlackBerry Thumb" as the gadget-related disease that sells column inches in 2007. Already we're hearing of little poppets that have wrenched their ulna or humerus flipping around with their new Nintendo controllers. [Ed note: Dan Jones wishes it known that he does not play video games and is not a medical expert, and so he knows even less about Nintendo than the BlackBerry thumb stories you called him about, thanks.]
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, and Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung