Technologies to Watch in 2006
Sensor Networks: Think of mesh networks that listen, and then report back, rather than merely provide public connectivity and you get the basic concept. And think small -- very, very small.
Designed to detect otherwise imperceptible changes in air temperature, or in the operation of machinery, these ultra-fine nets function as tiny video "eyes" for many industrial applications. The sensors, often called "motes", are designed to operate for years on batteries, and pass data about the particular states being monitored wirelessly on to a central computer.
The venture capital community is already behind this market with startups like Dust Networks and Ember Corp. grabbing millions in funding. (See Radio Standard Gets Small.) Established semiconductor manufacturers, meanwhile, are looking at adding Zigbee -- a short-range wireless standard that is used for many of these applications -- to their portfolios. (See TI Heats Up Zigbee.)
Practical applications for location technology: Yes, we know that location tracking technology has been around for donkey's years, but, frankly, how often have you really thought of it as anything more than a novelty?
That could change in 2006.
Why? Well for one, if municipal mesh networks really do take off, then network administrators are going to need to figure out how to track a large crowd of scattered clients rapidly joining and leaving these city-wide networks, if only to address the possibility of tracking 911 calls made over such connections.
Then there are actually devices coming that have a practical application for the everyday user. One example: a simple clip-on device that will allow you to record and digitally store notes that you made on a paper notepad. The device will use extremely precise 3D positioning technology that can be used to accurately track tiny movements between a transmitter (in the pen) and a receiver.
Wide-Area Smart Antennas, Take Two: Could smart antenna technolgy give new-fangled wireless broadband technologies such as WiMax -- or, more specifically, its Korean mobile cousin, WiBro -- a performance boost? (See Samsung Mobilizes WiBro.)
The most likely answer is yes, after Samsung Corp. quietly signed a deal with ArrayComm Inc. in early December that will allow it to apply the startup's smart antenna technology across its base station line-up, which includes cellular and WiBro products. ArrayComm's "adaptive array" system uses software to continually map the RF environment covered by an array of antennas and create a better link with each user in the cell (See ArrayComm Has Its Chips.)
WiFi in the Sky: The technology to allow you to wirelessly Web-surf while in flight is already here, and airlines are installing, or at least talking about installing systems to allow passengers WiFi access while flying.
This, however, is one of those services that doesn't look like it will be taken up by U.S. airlines very quickly -- it's expensive to install and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) only recently approved the concept.(See In-Flight Wireless ETA Unknown.)
But many Asian airlines are looking into the technology, and Lufthansa, which has a service up and running is charging $30 an hour for access in business class, offers the service on flights across the Atlantic.
WiFi Blocking Technologies: 802.11 networks in the home are increasingly prevalent, and that will fuel renewed demand for simple materials that can block unwanted signals from your friends and neighbors.
U.K. defence contractor BAE Systems said it had a WiFi blocking wallpaper back in 2004, and there have been several Japanese firms looking into the technology, but to date there's very little that's available to buy in the U.S. -- legally at least -- that will block WiFi and other wireless signals in your home, unless you want to invest in an enterprise-class intrusion detection system for the kitchen.
By next Christmas, this will be a popular stocking-stuffer.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung