It’s great to dream big, but there comes a point when you have to question whether it’s wise to count on wireless to deliver everything.
The technology folks are working overtime. They have discovered how handy smartphones are and all of their capabilities, and they’re rushing to find new and innovative ways to make our wireless devices do things we have only envisioned or perhaps not even thought about.
Today you can unlock the front door of your house if you purchase a lock that includes wireless, you can put a collar on your pet and monitor its whereabouts and even call it to come home (and perhaps it will). You can monitor your child’s location and make sure your aging grandfather is not lost. You can watch streaming videos, download music, share videos, find out what restaurants are nearby and more. The technology industry is engaged in making our wireless device the only device we will need to carry.
Now it seems General Motors has decided to use our smartphones to unlock a car and provide a number of other functions as well, some of which I wrote about many years ago. The article discussed how integrated a smartphone and the automobile would become. My vision was that once you got into your car, your car and your smartphone would “talk” to each other and your seat would be automatically adjusted, the temperature set to your liking, the radio tuned to your favorite station, and if it was your normal commute time, your phone would have the car plot the route for you and check on traffic and weather conditions, suggesting alternate routes if needed. I had not considered using the phone to unlock the doors or be used as a key to start the car.
The reason I did not consider using my cell phone to unlock the car is the possibility that the car would be out of coverage in an underground parking garage, or that it had been valet parked, or was just plain out of wireless coverage. If the car was parked near a major event such as a football or baseball game or near an emergency incident, I might not be able to access the wireless network and/or the Internet reliably in order to open my car’s doors.
However, all of the functions I described can be accomplished off of the network via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or one of the emerging local-area wireless technologies we will see introduced in the next few years. My idea was also to be able to use the settings when I rented a car or even borrowed my neighbor’s car. They have not taken it to that level yet, but I suspect we are heading in that direction.
Those who recently discovered wireless now view it and its capabilities as a tool that can be used for almost anything. Sometimes engineers and technologists dream up ideas they view as something that we all will want to have. The best of them are the ones that identify a problem that needs to be solved and set out to solve it.
But we are entering a time where, according to those who work on these types of products and their marketing folks, the only device we will need to carry with us is our wireless phone. It will soon replace our ATM and credit cards, it will open our car door, with it we will be able to view our house to make sure that the garage door is really closed, that we did not leave the stove on. While we are driving home we can turn on our house’s heat or air conditioning. As we pull into our driveway, we can turn on the lights inside.
The warning signs are all around us that trusting our wireless devices 100 percent of the time might not be such a wise idea. Recently in Europe and Korea both, network operators raised the alarm about the amount of traffic being generated over the networks’ signaling channels. This signaling channel is the channel used for the network to know where we are and which cell sector we are closest to, and it is sometimes used for SMS/ text traffic. It is the channel our phone uses to tell the network we want to use our device to make a call or to access the Internet.
If this channel is blocked, even if we are within cell coverage, we might not be able to make a call or get onto the Internet. The reason: Many wireless applications are using the signaling channel to request data and data updates and many of these applications are so chatty that they put a lot of traffic across the signaling channel. As we all know by now, the amount of bandwidth and signaling capacity is based on what is available to us within a single cell sector, not what is available over the entire network.
Wireless is wonderful. It has changed our lives for the better, in most cases, and it is a tool we all use every day. However, there will come a time when it will not be wise to rely on any wireless network, the fact that the Internet will be there, and bandwidth will always be available. It is not smart to put all your faith in technology, especially one that is subject to overcrowding and coverage constraints. If I bought a car that I could unlock with my cell phone, I can guarantee I would still carry a key in my pocket, just in case.
Seybold heads Andrew Seybold Inc., which provides consulting, educational and publishing services. For more information, visit www.andrewseybold.com.