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where will technology take us in the 21st century?

A look at five innovations that are changing the way we work, communicate, and live

THE ROAD TO THE 21ST CENTURY HAS BROUGHT MANY CHANGES in the way we work, conduct our private lives, and do business. And the Internet is at the center of it all. That claim isn't meant to steal any thunder from other advances, but the Internet has changed not only how we communicate but also when, where, and how often.

Other technologies are also heralding a new era. Distance is virtually eliminated with high-speed digital connections; electronic commerce is helping small businesses compete with large corporations worldwide. Wireless devices are no longer luxuries but necessities in a fast-moving marketplace. And biology is slowly but seamlessly meshing with technology. Computing systems that once occupied entire rooms now fit in the palms of our hands.

With so many changes occurring, it's easy to get overwhelmed. To help you keep pace, we've looked at five technologies that are driving change in business and in everyday life.

BROADBAND

Many of today's homes are crawling along, whether they know it or not, in what will be deemed the dark ages once broadband technologies--cable and DSL--get up to speed. Currently, 56Kbps is the fastest modem speed available, although the actual transmission rate tops off at about 52Kbps (or lower, depending on your ISP).

Most homes and smaller businesses with Web access use dial-up because it is the cheapest and most widely available, but DSL and cable providers are making inroads. Broadband, according to the Federal Communications Commission, is capable of supporting both downstream and upstream connections at speeds in excess of 7Mbps; that's about four times faster than dial-up. Many small to medium-size businesses already have broadband access, as do consumers who want instant-on access, faster surfing, or a better gaming experience.

And as products and delivery mechanisms evolve, the capabilities broadband will bring to the average household will be astounding. The holy trinity of communications--voice, video, and data--will all be provided over one connection, from one provider. While these services are being delivered today in areas like Phoenix, Arizona, by cable provider Cox Communications and Qwest Communications, most consumers can expect a widespread rollout--and greater speed--within the next five years. (For more on broadband access, see "The Promised Bandwidth," Techwatch, December 2000.)

Phone companies, cable operators, and broadband service providers like Santa Clara, California-based Covad Communications are working to speed connectivity. With DSL, for instance, some companies are rolling out delivery of voice, as well as video channels, digital, commercial-flee audio stations, and high-speed Internet access--all over one line, with all services operating simultaneously.

As broadband hurtles forward, the networked home of the future will resemble those that we know from sci-fi movies or cartoons like The Jetsons.

A WIRELESS WORLD

Wireless devices such as mobile phones and pagers keep us connected with work as well as with family and friends. And a new generation of wireless networks promises to deliver data to handsets at up to 2 million bits per second--more than 100 times what's possible today. At these speeds, service providers like Verizon Wireless, Cingular, AT&T Wireless, and Sprint PCS say that even video will soon be delivered to handsets.

Imagine using a phone not only for getting information from the Internet but also for multimedia games, presentations, and even videoconferencing. The first networks able to offer these services are expected in Europe and Asia by 2002; we can expect deployments by 2003. Why the wait? According to Philip Kendall, mobile communications analyst at Boston-based Strategy Analytics, there are two key reasons. First, the U.S. lags behind most European and Asian countries both in technology and in penetration of the subscriber base. Second, the technology will cost each operator billions of dollars to deploy.

But with rollout expected around 2003, wireless providers will know the exact location of their subscribers. This will allow restaurants, shops, and other retailers to send ads to wireless handsets, enticing users into their stores as they pass. Hungry? A nearby restaurant is offering 10% off dinner via the electronic coupon it just sent to your cell phone.

Mobile handsets will have to evolve even further, of course, combining phone capabilities with elements of personal digital assistants. One example of where the technology is headed is Handspring's Springboard modules for the Visor. The Visor features an expansion slot to add a variety of modules such as a digital camera or the company's VisorPhone, which instantly turns your handheld into a mobile phone.

Handsets like Ericcson's R380 (which comes with a foldout keypad) are already being equipped with larger screens, voice recognition, and greater processing power. And soon handsets will also talk to each other using Bluetooth, a short-range wireless networking technology, says Mark Lowenstein, chief industry strategist at Informico, a wireless Internet infrastructure company based in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Bluetooth-enabled devices exchange information and synchronize data between handsets and PCs. But with more cars, homes, businesses, and wearable devices--such as Samsung's Watch Style Phone--being outfitted with wireless connections, this technology promises to dramatically change the way we work and communicate. And with dozens of companies involved in the development of this technology (Nokia and Motorola are the two most notable ones), we can expect rollout of Bluetooth-enabled devices by the end of this year.

NO MORE BOXES

These days, shrink-wrapped software packages are pass& If you want software, you get it online. And industry analysts say that five years from now, software will be available only as a download on a rental or subscription basis via application service providers (ASPs). This is already a trend that even Microsoft has acknowledged with its ASP Licensing Program, which permits ASPs to license Microsoft products on a monthly basis.

Corporations and small businesses are clamoring for these services--and, increasingly, so are consumers. ASPs provide applications such as Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, and Word for a monthly fee; some also offer their own software (like Sun Microsystems' StarOffice 5.2, available as a free download), which is similar to and in most cases compatible with Microsoft applications. ASPs also provide the support services required to deliver and maintain their offerings.

For companies, the lure is the promise of reducing IT costs by 30% to 60%. For consumers, it's a way to try software without being locked into an expensive product as well costly upgrades; best of all, the software comes with tech support.

Choosing an ASP also saves valuable hardware space, since the applications needed to use an ASP's software are generally a fraction of the size of, say, Microsoft Word or Excel. Additionally, the software is stored on the provider's servers. Because of this, you can access the applications and work remotely, rather than being tied to a desk.

The rental model is attractive, says Chris Whitely, project manager at Insight Research Corp., a telecom market-research firm in Parsippany, New Jersey. "I think the major pros are that for the software you are less likely to use now, you can use it on a trial or occasional basis."

But, says Whitely, there's a downside. "In effect, customers give up some level of control in exchange for using the applications. It really is a major shift in the way that people are used to getting their software."

DIGITAL DOLLARS

If you've ever shopped on the Internet--or sold products there--you know that one of the most difficult parts of an online transaction is payment. And while vendors are making it easier to use credit cards online, not everyone is comfortable with the idea. Enter digital cash. Or, rather, re-enter digital cash.

Digital cash, an Internet-based payment system, lets users pay individuals and businesses online with real U.S. dollars (not gift certificates or reward points), and send money electronically to actual bank accounts.

If the term sounds familiar, it should. This is actually the second iteration of an Internet digital payment system. The difference between this version and DigiCash, however, is that the original was not actual U.S. currency. Digicash was like buying a gift certificate and using it at online merchants, similar to, say, Flooz.com.

Although still in its infancy, the current iteration of digital cash is blazing its own trails. Currently, you can send cash via e-mail once you open an account with a provider, enabling you to pay at an online merchant or auction sites. For consumers, there's no fee; merchants typically pay 1% to 2% on each transaction to companies such as PayPal and CheckFree, a bill-payment firm that will roll out its own digital cash service later this year.

PayPal's 4.5 million users send about $7 million daily. Users simply open an account with the company with either a credit card or bank account information. The company also pays 5.2% annual interest on balances. These accounts are not FDIC insured, however.

HOME TECHNOLOGY SIMPLIFIED

With terms like "convergence," "broadband," and "networked home" now commonplace, vendors are seeking to lighten the load on the home front. Does anyone remember WebTV? The newest generation of Web home devices is the best evidence that Internet appliances are here to stay--in some form or another.

Netpliance led the way in 1999 with the iOpener. Currently 3tom is touting Audrey (a digital home assistant), which features a wireless keyboard and a stylus. Compaq is also in the picture, offering the iPAQ Home Internet Appliance.

While these units don't have the processing power and speed of a typical late-model PC, they are widely being accepted for what they can do, and are finding a welcoming audience among those who want the basics--e-mail, Internet access, and home-management tools such as scheduling, address book, and recipe storage. All feature one-touch access to e-mail and the Internet, and are a fraction of the cost of a PC (from $199 to $549, plus Web access).

So what's next for Internet appliances? "Wireless," says Jon Conmy, 3Com's manager of developing applications. "In a home setting, wireless technologies will allow us to more elegantly insert new products easily and more intelligently."

Because consumers will use these appliances for Internet content rather than, say, creating spreadsheets and Word documents, these units going forward will also focus on lifestyle and entertainment features, says Conmy. In fact, 3Com began shipping Kerbango, an Internet radio that can fetch thousands of stations around the globe, in January.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:forecast
Author:MCKAY, JASON P.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2001
Words:1720
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