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Wireless: A Narrower Broadband?

Only 12 percent of all Internet users have broadband connections and 99 percent of those use some kind of traditional cable, optical or wire technology, reports Peter Firstbrook, senior research analyst at Stamford, CT-based META Group. Nevertheless, there are some economies of scale for the right wireless technologies to compete in the broadband arena, he forecasts.

The highest speed of wireless technology that is widely available today is built on top of "second-generation," or 2G, digital technology, according to Firstbrook. "Generation 2.5 is layering a data channel on top of that technology, which allows packet-switched data from 40 kilobytes to 80 kilobytes," he says.

This has significant long-term implications, Firstbrook suggests. "For a little PDA that's just exchanging data with a 'mother ship' somewhere, that's very reasonable bandwidth," since such devices don't waste bandwidth on flashy graphics, he says.

However, the need to build a PDA-friendly presentation layer for existing applications—and the shortage of vendors to do the work—remains a barrier to widespread exploitation of 2.5G bandwidth, as does the fact that networks are only beginning to come online with the service, Firstbrook says.

In the meantime, some vendors are taking steps to fill the gap. For example, Optimus Solutions, a Norcross, GA-based solution provider specializing in mobile and wireless applications, is concentrating on building "field service" applications for professionals, such as claims adjusters, that can make the most of existing speeds, reports Wayne Fleming, professional services manager.

"The idea is to send the least amount of information possible to let the representatives do their job," Fleming says. "They get an address, phone number and maybe a few more details—no large attachments. And that can be done opportunistically, when they're on the network, or it can wait for them to initiate contact from their device."

This limited approach is only temporary, Fleming insists. "In the next two or three years the broadband capabilities enjoyed by a worker at home will be extended to mobile workers using PDAs, cell phones and pocket PCs," he predicts. "Their office will be their car, and they'll have the same level of connectivity now available in the home."

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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