I’ve been speculating on the role that WiFi might play in the future mobile broadband ecosystem, and Alcatel-Lucent has apparently been doing the same. The result is their latest enhancement to their lightRadio line, which they call “lightRadio WiFi”, a development that addresses the reality of mobile broadband—it’s not all about 3G and 4G but rather about appliances.
Smartphones and tablets have long used WiFi both to escape over-the-air charges for periods of high Internet use, and of course a growing percentage of tablets don’t have any other connection option. Given this, it follows that WiFi resources need to be managed not as independent broadband oasis but rather as a kind of sparse mobile network, one that offers coverage in some places but not (geographically) in most. At the same time, it’s clear (from trials in places like Florida) that it will soon be possible to cover a large geographic area with overlapping WiFi “cells”—and all of this is driven by the appliance side. What Alcatel-Lucent has done with lightRadio WiFi is to bring WiFi into the fold in terms of connection management, to embrace fully the notion of hand-off and potentially even roaming and charging within a 3G/4G/WiFi mixed enclave, or even in theory for WiFi alone.
They’ve also illustrated why it’s so difficult to be fully engaged in the appliance revolution if you’re a vendor who has neither appliance nor RAN assets. This new vision of a RAN could be transforming, and anyone who drives the transformation bus gets to decide who sits where. That makes things harder for other vendors who have less-developed positions with the RAN and service/handoff/roaming control, and much more difficult for those who have no clear asset base on which to develop these capabilities.
In another critical market area, the cloud, IBM sponsored a survey that will shortly be published that shows that the key role of the cloud is not (or should not) be to make current business models cheaper, but to enable new ones. This is the very point that I’ve been making based on our own surveys. As our February Netwatcher edition will show, it’s IT projects that unlock new benefits that change the IT spending trend line overall, and these projects are falling off at an alarming rate. If the current trend continues, then IT will become another business commodity item, something that IBM for sure doesn’t want to see. It’s also interesting that this talk is coming out of IBM just after it’s made a leadership change. Users in our surveys have reported that IBM has fallen from its once-unique position as leader in articulating the business-value-to-technology-decision evolution that’s critical in driving new productivity paradigms. Does IBM now want to get this back?
That’s what we’re hearing. Ginni Rometty, who came from Global Services, may have a better-than-average insight into what IBM needs to do to get businesses thinking that IT is something that can truly ramp up their bottom line, and that can be done only by showing that there are new benefits to unlock. That these benefits could drive IT spending up an average of almost 25% over the next seven years versus current trends wouldn’t hurt IBM either. But as good news as this could be for IBM and even for IT at large, it’s likely not good news for networking. All of the IT-driven waves of the past involved networking as necessary connecting glue and thus (through several intermediate phases) drove universal broadband. The next wave would need to drive a new network/IT relationship, and an IT company like IBM is more likely to push that relationship strongly into IT’s favored direction.