Comic book writers have done as good a job as analysts and venture capitalists at predicting where the Wi-Fi industry will go, says Dr. Larry Brilliant, visionary and vice chairman of Wi-Fi wholesaler Cometa Networks in a keynote address Tuesday at SUPERCOMM’s one-day wireless networking event, “Everywhere Networking: Where Wi-Fi Meets Mobility for the Consumer and the Enterprise.”
Brilliant, a medical doctor and serial entrepreneur, points to Dick Tracy and the little known Magnus as 1960s-era cartoon characters with radio watches and wearable data chipset as progenitors of today’s wireless voice and data gadgets.
Conceding that his own predictions will be off base, Brilliant offered a view of the future of Wi-Fi that includes 100 million Wi-Fi-enabled devices, 10 million access points and 50 million users by 2008. “That means two devices per user, which sounds about right,” he says.
In the intervening years, he describes the evolution of the market from today’s sporadic spot coverage to the 2005’s “mini-zones” arising organically from users’ traffic patterns. Already there are certain city blocks where coverage is seamless because of dense deployment of access points in retail locations.
Further out, Brilliant sees an overlay of 802.16a, a metro broadband wireless standard ratified by the IEEE earlier this year, to provide the backhaul — more cheaply and quickly than current wireline methods.
Intel, a partner in Cometa Networks, is backing 802.16a and is working on chipsets, according to Alan Menezes, vice president of marketing for Aperto Networks, a founding member of WiMAX, an industry group formed in April to promote adoption of the standard. Menezes says WiMax plans compatibility testing to occur in early 2004 with compliant product being rolled out in the second half of next year.
He adds that it is “the next step beyond Wi-Fi” because it is designed with greater capacity and range required in the MAN. Aperto Networks’ technology, for example, covers up to 30 miles.
In his address, Brilliant describes the 802.11b and 802.16a growth pattern using an analogy from his other career in health science. Bacteria growth in a petri dish placed in a warm environment first sprouts and spreads and then grows in all dimensions, forming a canopy over the dish. In this same way, he expects Wi-Fi and wireless MAN to spread and grow.
“If the canopy effect occurs, it will force virtually every telecom provider to rethink their businesses,” he says, explaining it could be a complement or an alternative to most incumbent providers, including IXCs, RBOCs, mobile wireless, CLECs, cablecos. He also sees opportunities for a new class of ISPs and even venue owners that give the service away as an amenity.
Which will win? Brilliant isn’t laying odds, adding that it makes no difference to him as any and all of them are potential customers of his company’s wholesale network.