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The Future Is...Not Quite Yet

The Future Is...Not Quite Yet

A wise man once said, "The future is very different from the past, particularly in one important respect: it hasn't happened yet."

However sensible that may sound, the more you navigate around the wireless space the more you'd be forgiven for thinking that, on the contrary, it's just some crackpot theory. Because - just read the ads - the future is here, the future is now, the future is bright...and above all, needless to say, the future is wireless.

We're awash with it. The future, I mean. 3G, nay, sometimes even 4G, is mentioned daily. The so-called wireless Internet is alive and well and living on a gazillion cell phones and wireless devices of every conceivable shape and color. Bandwidth of such breadth is so ubiquitously available that streaming video itself is now a gimme. Even digital paper is here, so that we can write or draw anything we please and send it wirelessly to any other device on earth.

But the future, it seems, is in reality not quite yet.

Even though 3G is within reach, it certainly isn't here. Even i-mode has postponed its rollout. Many companies are voting instead to leverage cheaper, preexisting 2G and 2.5G solutions like 802.11b and short-range radio systems like Bluetooth. And 4G may just as well be a trillion light years away if 3G never gets rolled out properly.

Likewise, bandwidth is not yet commoditized, and broadband remains for most would-be users at best, expensive, and at worst, totally unavailable. So those who wish to ping video clips hither and yon via their cell phones are best advised to book the nearest flight to Korea, where that country's CDMA commercial wireless network is built out sufficiently to make such a dream a reality.

Why then this preoccupation by marketers, pretending that the future's already here when it's not? Why don't they concentrate on selling the present, since that's when consumers' cash is needed?

The explanation lies deep in human nature. It lies, I suspect, in our susceptibility to "word magic." Just as we were once transfixed by incantations and enthralled by liturgies, we are now ensnared by newly minted buzzwords and by acronyms. It's as if we somehow think that, by bathing in the alphabet soup of wireless technology, we are in some way immunizing ourselves against surprises, "future proofing" ourselves, in the ultimate weasel words of Madison Avenue.

By mastering the various acronyms - AMPS (Analog Mobile Phone System), D-AMPS (Digital Advanced Mobile Phone System), GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication), CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) - we try to convince ourselves that we're getting a handle on the underlying technologies for communicating data over the airwaves. But knowing the four letters of a specific wireless system, be it PACS or CDPD or GPRS, is no substitute for knowing the system itself. Anymore than we can become brain surgeons just by knowing how to pronounce hypothalamus and occipital lobe.

This is where the strategy of, say, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group or even the Apache Foundation, seems to me sometimes to be almost fatally flawed. Bluetooth adoption will rise and fall on the strength of the technology, not on the resonance of the name, which is why the IEEE has no qualms naming its own wireless LAN specification the somewhat less sexy 802.11b. And open source software will triumph over its proprietary cousins as a function of its robustness, its reduced bugginess, and its inexpensiveness, not because it is jauntily called Ant or Cocoon.

Madison Avenue would do well to take heed from all this. "You can stroke people with words," said F. Scott Fitzgerald, and so you can. But Internet technology is about technology more than it's about mere words and acronyms, just as the techno-present for businesses and individuals, alike, is about fiscal realities, the here-and-now, more than it is about some yearned-for, but as yet unrealized, technofuture.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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