Mobile Computing Realities

Michael Vizard

There is this perception out there that somehow, if we have enough bandwidth, all our issues with the current state of mobile computing will just go away. As a result, there is an inordinate amount of interest in the 4G wireless networks being built by carriers and the eventual deployment of LTE infrastructure technologies that will enable these networks.

But what people tend to forget is that networks are a lot like highways: Every time you add a new lane all you wind up with is more traffic. So even when 4G wireless networks are deployed, Tom Young, a partner and managing director for the IT consulting firm TPI, says the most anybody can expect to see on average is going to be about 2 to 3 megabits of bandwidth per person. And in heavily populated areas, the amount of bandwidth available is still going to be heavily constrained because there are going to be a lot more people trying to access, among other things, streaming videos using a tablet PC or smartphone over a larger, but just as congested, wireless network.

Obviously, a lot of people are going to be doing what savvy mobile computing users do today: They make a mental note of where all the 802.11n wireless network hot spots are so they can access rich content without interruption. And not too far down the road, the handoff between cellular networks and Wi-Fi networks will be a lot more seamless than it is today. And who knows, the carriers might have the technology in place they need to really start optimizing network bandwidth allocation thanks to advances in analytics.

But even with those advances, Young notes that developers of mobile computing applications are always going to have to assume that people are accessing their applications over a fairly limited amount of bandwidth. To compensate for those latency issues, many may try run more code on the local client, but the reality is that they will have to become quite skilled at balancing the latency limitations of the network on both the client and server side of the equation, which partly explains all the interest in HTML5 for building those types of applications.

So the two things to remember about the future of mobile computing are: Regardless of the pending acquisition of T-Mobile by AT&T, the "LT" in LTE stands for "long term," as in very, and even when LTE finally does arrive, some form of mobile computing congestion will still be with us.

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