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Monday, April 28, 2008

What's the Wireless next step?

If it's wireless, it's trendy.

There's grand talk throughout the tech world about a wave of new networks and wireless innovation that will provide better Internet access, deliver streaming video and foster an array of consumer-friendly features. Although it's too early to be sure which companies or networks will be most successful, the optimists dominate the skeptics.

Moreover, the federal government's recent auction of desirable radio spectrum - significant portions of which were won by AT&T and Verizon Wireless - is considered a major catalyst for improved mobile services.

As constantly proclaimed by industry experts at "The Mobile Future" conference in Santa Clara last week, the wireless industry is supposed to revolutionize our lives. So, just how will that happen?

• Consider the prospect of two-way video on handheld devices. For instance, parents may be able to use cell phones to talk face to face with a son or daughter at college.

• Imagine using your cell phone as a checkbook, said Pradeep Khosla, dean of the College of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. You would send a secure payment authorization from your phone to someone else's, and the bank would confirm the transaction electronically.

• Think about a cell phone that would download your latest travel information as you entered an airport, said Ted Selker, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. It would confirm your boarding pass, alert you to a flight delay and give you a map that shows a Starbucks next to your gate.
• Or think about using the cameras in cell phones to search the Internet, suggested Bob Iannucci, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Nokia. People could snap a picture of the Eiffel Tower and then use the photo as a search prompt to get information. When the photo is recognized, you could receive tips from online guidebooks. Or think in terms of shopping: You could take a photo of shoes in a store window and download product details from the retailer's Web site.

Is there a realistic chance that these ideas, gathered by the Mercury News at the conference and in other interviews, could be deployed over the next several years?

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