• United States

So why isn’t it wireless?

Sep 15, 20033 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork SecurityWi-Fi

Broadcom somehow has managed to trademark the official designation of the president’s airplane and stuck it onto a temporally revolutionary product.

I expect its new single-chip 802.11b (Wi-Fi) offering, called AirForce One, soon will be joined by similar products from other vendors, but Broadcom seems to have a head start on what could be a transformation of the consumer electronics world.

All too soon the question everyone will be asking is “So why isn’t it wireless?”

Broadcom says its chip uses 87% less board space and consumes 97% less power (at least in standby mode) than the current multi-chip solutions on the market. I’d expect that successive generations and products from other chip vendors will be still smaller and consume even less power.

In a sad example of the modern legal system, Broadcom’s press release  was only half about the chip and its wonders, 10% about the company and a Webcast Broadcom was holding about it, and 40% was disclaimers telling Wall Street not to assume that Broadcom suddenly will become General Motors with the release of this chip.

What type of electronics will be immune from being Wi-Fied? Certainly not cameras, music players (next-gen iPod maybe) or cell phones that switch over to voice over IP when in the house, office or Starbucks. Nor will set-top boxes, handheld game players, headphones, computer peripherals (printers, scanners, etc.), weather sensors, Christmas tree light timers, lawn sprinklers or toy cars and boats.

And then there are all the household appliances, including dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, refrigerators, thermostats, burglar alarm sensors and air conditioners. Won’t it just be wonderful to have a window pop-up on your X-Box to tell you when the dishes are done? What does that leave? Not much! (I was going to say articles of clothing, but then I realized that Nike likely will “just do it.”)

There will be some interesting security and management challenges to overcome, but that will not slow the proliferation – too few vendors and far too few consumers think that security is all that important. (I don’t want to think about someone hacking into those already-far-too-fancy Japanese toilets.)

Combine this trend with the coming surge in radio frequency ID tags from Wal-Mart and others, and schoolchildren won’t have to learn how to spell “privacy” any more.

Add to this the current surge in Wi-Fi hot spots (free and otherwise), and the cell phone carriers might have some fun times coming. Why pay Verizon by the minute to talk when you can pay Starbucks by the hour or talk for free in tens of thousands of places around the world?

Combine all this with the legal establishment and you will get a surge in lawsuits saying Broadcom is contributing to Americans not getting enough exercise by facilitating remote control to such an extent that kids never have to leave their PlayStations (except for enabling adequate I/O operations).

Disclaimer: Maybe Harvard Law School could get some alumni donations from those lawyers, but I did not ask the law school, or anyone else at Harvard, about this topic.