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Going Mainstream

This month marks the eighth year that I have been seriously writing about mobile and wireless technology. Which naturally led me to think about exactly how much has changed over that time and realize how much more mainstream wireless has become even in such a short period.

In 1999, mobile phones certainly weren't as ubiquitous as they are today. My first stateside cellphone was a radical -- for the time -- Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) StarTAC. The U.S., however, felt a little backward in cellular terms compared to the U.K. I couldn't even text any of my new friends in NYC because none of the American carriers had signed SMS interoperability agreements.

Meanwhile, 802.11b wireless LAN and Bluetooth were just starting to arrive on the scene. Mostly, however, these technologies were the talk of the tech press -- not something to be used in your home or at work. Some visionaries -- or lunatics -- did envisage a time when you could use community-built WiFi to make calls and downloads and bypass the cellular operators completely. Something that still could happen -- at least locally -- if muni WiFi networks ever really do take off.

We've come a pretty long way in the intervening years. Cellphones are now a given, pretty much everyone I know has WiFi in some form or other, and we're downloading all kinds of content over the air.

Just consider how much more in the mainstream wireless is these days as well. The iPhone is making headlines all over the world this week. Wireless and mobile mergers and acquisitions don't just make news in niche publications anymore, they make the Journal or the New York Times. And if you search the Web you'll find plenty of everyday consumers talking about WiFi, 3G, even WiMax, when such things would have been incomprehensible to them in '99.

The thing is, this is just the start of how wireless will creep into our lives. Basic stuff -- like how to use your cellphone across multiple networks, a single number for all devices, and easy access to mobile content -- has yet to be figured out. WiMax is just starting to arrive and -- despite setbacks -- municipal WiFi networks are still garnering a lot of interest.

And those are just the wireless and mobile issues that are obvious to me now. There will no doubt be a raft of new ones by the time we hit my tenth anniversary in the mobile business.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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