The Post-Wireless Era?

The post-PC era? Definitely. But wireless is also in the middle of a profound transition as well, behooving us to think network and not just wireless alone.

I've been working in wireless and mobile for a very long time (Farpoint Group will shortly be 22 years old, and I worked on the first laptop computer, which was announced in 1982), and by no means am I going to advocate closing the patent office in the W&M space. But you may recall that my theme for this year is sufficiency - the fact that we have reached a point where we have sufficient (if not exactly abundant) wireless and mobile capabilities, and that consequently IT managers can shift their focus up the protocol stack to applications, which are, after all, the reason we do everything else in IT. In short, while we can't exactly take wireless for granted, we're at the point that we can at least depend on the availability of cost-effective mobile-centric broadband products and services.

Along with this sufficiency come two additional factors. First, a slowing rate of innovation means that IT managers can now purchase solutions that will have both (again, at least sufficient) performance and cost characteristics - and, second, these solutions won't become obsolete so quickly, making CFOs everywhere more than happy. Investments will have return. I'm therefore expecting explosive market growth in W&M over the next few years. A $10B WLAN market, for example? Believe it. LTE on essentially every handset? Can't live without it. An app for that, whatever that is? Yes, and perhaps even HTML5 cloud-based apps replacing all those messy, device-specific solutions. Developers, too, will be very, very busy. So let the good times roll, even if us analysts won't have as much to do. Such is the nature of maturing technologies and markets.

The second part, and the topic of this column, is that emphasis on solutions obviously moves the focus away from wireless technologies alone - again, another reason why analysts won't be quite so busy. It's no longer about radios, and wireless protocols, and such - rather, it's about solutions. Those solutions also involve wire, if only to interconnect access points and base stations, management solutions of dramatically-increasing importance controlling wired, wireless, BYOD, identity, and much more, and, again, applications. Think end-to-end, as anyone seeking a solution must, and you'll likely see that the wireless part isn't quite as tricky or even as visible as it once was. Assuming a little knowledge and, again, robust management systems/applications/solutions, it (maybe make that IT?) just works. To apply an at least workable analogy, the plumbing is nowhere near as interesting as the fluids flowing through it.

The point here is that customers are now gravitating to solution providers, not technology providers. Any current player in the wireless and mobile space must have a strategy based on becoming and remaining important to other suppliers, particularly the large network-equipment providers and large system integrators. These are the firms that customers, who will continue to increase their purchases of integrated, outsourced, and managed IT solutions (that word again), will call first. Innovation helps smaller suppliers by generating interest among customers looking for a technology-based advantage - which is at least in part why wireless has grown so huge over the past two decades. But as the rate of innovation slows, as the focus shifts up the stack, it's all about cost. More integration, less cost. The Consolidation Principle at work once again.

A taking-wireless-for-granted/it-just-works approach doesn't seem so radical after all, then, does it? We've in fact seen exactly this evolutionary scenario in high tech many times before.

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