Are Wireless Networks Ready for Multimedia?

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A Parks Associates' study says multimedia-capable wireless network devices will explode during the next three years. According to the study, entitled The Wireless Multimedia LAN: Requirements and Outlook, the number of devices will grow from 2.5 million in 2006 to almost 52 million in 2010.


The study focuses on home users. The statistics in a graphic in the release appear to include the entire market, which will include a tremendous number of business users and their applications. As we've repeatedly said, it's really two sides of the same coin. The wall between the business and consumer sectors is increasingly porous, especially in the wireless and mobile realm.


Whoever the users are, a twenty-fold increase is impressive. What's equally impressive is the number of challenges that must be surmounted to support all those users.


Here's one example: Networks, naturally, must be able to deliver content in a timely manner to all those devices. Sending even one multimedia stream over a network -- be it wired or unwired -- is tricky, since the bits and bytes must arrive in a far more precise, regimented and predictable manner than those that comprise today's relatively static applications. Thus, quality of service (QoS) -- the guarantee that packets will meet certain delivery tolerances -- becomes paramount. Suffice it to say that guaranteeing a high QoS across a rapidly expanding universe of users is no mean feat.


That's not the point of this posting, however. The bottom line is that guaranteeing quality is only one of the problems that will be created by a drastic increase in mobile multimedia devices. There will be other technical obstacles, as well as significant hills to climb in the business, back office and marketing departments.


The old cliche says that people should be careful of what they wish for, lest it come true. If wireless multimedia explodes -- the goal of service providers and vendors -- it will make significant changes necessary to the underlying structure of the how mobile and wireless networks are built and how they operate. Carriers, service providers -- and their customers -- should prepare.