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Keys to Success for Ubiquitous Computing

By Michael Gartenberg
November 26, 2001 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Last month, I discussed how ubiquitous computing meets the criteria that allow it to potentially displace the PC as the information appliance choice for most business users. As I define it, there are three critical components of ubiquitous computing: Web services, wireless connectivity and a diversity of information devices. While ubiquitous computing might be lacking in the first two, it's dependent on wireless connectivity to be successful.
Despite the issues of different standards for wireless networks, there are three major connectivity types that will help the growth of ubiquitous computing: wireless personal-area networks (PAN), wireless LANs and wireless WANs. Each can be broken down into different competing technologies, and IT managers should get to know them.
For multiple devices to work as a model, they will first need to speak to one another through a PAN and exchange relevant data. The key is relevant data being transmitted to each device. While I doubt that I will ever want to view a spreadsheet on my mobile phone, synchronizing my Outlook contacts would be ideal. Here, two technologies will dominate: Bluetooth radio and Infrared Data Association (IRDA) infrared. While there has been a slow uptake of Bluetooth as a standard, it works, and works well. IRDA is also a contender for synchronization and beaming data. The irony is that just as IRDA has matured to a point of usability, many laptop vendors are removing infrared ports from their systems to save money.
The second critical form of connectivity is the wireless LAN. Already popular in airports, hotels and other venues, the dominant 802.11b standard will become more popular. Its successor, 802.11a, will emerge in products by year's end with increased performance. But the final specification for 802.11a hasn't been ratified and adopted worldwide, so you should hold off on deployment until final standards emerge (at least until mid-2002). For now, 802.11b should be considered for wireless LANs in homes and businesses, or anyplace a shared, fast Internet connection is needed.
As ubiquitous computing grows, the third connection type - WAN connectivity - will become critical. Over the next two years, fast connections using General Packet Radio Service, which enhances the GSM standard that supports data, and its competitor, Code Division Multiple Access 2000, will offer wireless speeds of 56K to 144K bit/sec. Replacing slower Cellular Digital Packet Data, which enhances analog cellular networks and supports speeds of a mere 19.2K, these so-called third generation, or 3G, networks, will reinvigorate carrier revenues for the wireless telecommunications companies and put great pressure on wireless Internet service providers to



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