Business IT leaders should take note: Schools and universities might well be the proving ground for future wireless applications and services. At Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., for example, an Aruba Networks 802.11n wireless LAN is helping IT managers distribute 17 channels of IP-based television to dorm rooms. The cost is far lower than what it would cost to offer TV via coaxial cable, or even deliver TV via Ethernet, said Jimmy Graham, manager of network services at Liberty. "IPTV is working out great," Graham said. "Video is kind of the future. We expect more video chat, but also all the content you get from Hulu and YouTube."
"But it's hard to keep ahead" of wireless needs, added Bruce Osborne, a network engineer at Liberty University.
Liberty might be ahead of the mobility game, for now, analysts said. "In truth, few companies truly understand the ramifications of the future wireless transformations coming," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates. Handling support for a diverse collection of consumer smartphones, such as the iPhone and Android-based devices, is "just the tip of the iceberg," he said.
Technologies such as video streaming, real-time collaboration, and cloud-based systems accessed from mobile devices "will all have a profound effect on corporate networks, security and management of devices and users," Gold added. "Few companies have a long-term strategic vision for mobility, let alone a strategic plan."
A blurring of handheld form factors
Change is coming quickly in the mobile industry. One indicator is the variety of new devices introduced each quarter, which makes it difficult to plan two years ahead, let alone 10 years. The next trend-setting iPhone is supposed to include a forward-facing video camera for video chat, for example, while Apple's iPad tablet is expected to spawn a slew of imitators on a variety of operating systems.
The expected changes mean that companies will need to hire more IT workers who are familiar with mobile platforms and applications, and that universities need to train engineers for such work.
"We're due for massive change [in enterprise mobility] in the next 10 years," said Jim Hemmer, CEO of Antenna Software, a Jersey City, N.J.-based company that builds and hosts enterprise mobile applications for businesses.
Hemmer expects a blurring of handheld form factors over the next two years. "We'll see the mobile handset augmented by some sort of iPad-like device, and the devices will be smaller than iPads but bigger than BlackBerries, with touchscreens and maybe a slip-out keyboard. They will cost $300 to $500 and will completely replace the laptop at several times that much."
Hemmer also sees a sweeping move toward greater worker mobility in a few years. "It will be a worker with a phone on the hip, not working in an office and without a need for a desk phone. The device will be graphical, allowing workers to read files and modify them. It will totally change business," he said.
One Antenna customer, John Rinaldi of ThyssenKrupp Elevator, hopes to outguess the coming demands imposed by wireless mobility. "With wireless, all of your traditional IT concerns are multiplied across the number of wireless devices, tools, security, help desk, and support, so matters are escalated tenfold," he said.