- This will be the year of the femtocell. Though it has
one of the worst names ever for a great tech product, this handy little gadget
will prove invaluable to small and home offices that suffer from poor cellular
reception. The femtocell basically connects to your cable or DSL line, routing
cell phone calls over the Internet instead of through the nearest cell phone
tower. It acts seamlessly to keep call routing efficient, converging cellular
and Internet technologies in a way that will make sense for homes and businesses.
Sprint introduced its version of a femtocell (called Airave, costing $99 plus
a $5 monthly fee) in 2008; Verizon and AT&T have plans to have theirs
on the market in early 2009.
- Windows 7 will suffer a dreary and slow introduction.
The successor to Windows Vista is already in public beta testing to prepare
for a launch in 2009. But this won’t be an easy or rapid deployment.
While Windows Vista has proven more secure than predecessor operating systems,
it is also bloated and loaded with features that many customers — including
business customers — don’t want or need. The result is that a
wide range of business and government organizations have opted to stick with
Windows XP rather than upgrade. The new Windows 7 will be treated with some
skepticism in its first year, and while it may eventually prove the path to
the future its adoption will be slow.
- WiMAX won’t go much of anywhere. Sprint launched
the first commercial WiMAX network in the United States in 2008 with a test
bed in Baltimore. The roll-out was nearly everything Sprint could have asked
for, and the Federal Communications Commission gave its blessing for a joint
Sprint/Clearwire project to build a national network based on this 802.16
wireless technology. There are just two problems with the idea. First, there
is no appreciable demand for the product, which seems to be most an also-ran
replacement for Wi-Fi. And the cellular industry has been successful in launching
its own 3G networks that are somewhat more capable at mobile connectivity
than WiMAX. Look for Google, Intel and others to back WiMAX, but don't look
for it to go far.
- Technologies for environmental action will move to the forefront.
Much of the reason that “green” implements for environmental action
have not reached consumers is that the technology industry was engaged elsewhere
– building the Internet and figuring out what to do with the iPhone.
But the gas crunch of mid-2008 refocused the industry on the fact that solar,
wind and other alternatives can’t work for consumers because they are
too large, too expensive and too clumsy. That will change in 2009, with a
raft of better ideas for “going green” that are more affordable
and less complicated than what we have today.
- We’ll get a technology czar in Washington. Early
in his campaign, President-Elect Barack Obama floated the idea of creating
a cabinet-level Chief Technology Officer for the nation. Though it has not
been mentioned since, this is an idea so sensible and important that it is
hard to believe he would not follow through. Since the Congress dismantled
the Office of Technology Assessment more than a decade ago, the federal government
has been forced to deal with rapidly evolving technologies with little or
no independent guidance and no central point from which to make national policies
to advance technology utilization. I’m all for changing that.
- Small computers will continue to grow in importance. They
don’t even call them notebook computers anymore, this new generation
of browsing and email devices from a dozen or more companies. Asus and Acer
are battling it out for the 9-inch screen mini-computer market, while Sony
and Fujitsu are staking out the market for 5-inch screen devices. Any way
you cut it, these “ultra-mobile PCs” are a growing segment of
the market that offer lighter weight and a smaller profile. And if they don’t
do everything that beefier notebooks do, they can be had for about one quarter
of the price.
- Tech will get cheaper. Much cheaper. With falling economies
all over the globe, the people who make the bulk of tech equipment in Asia
have decided this is no time to be caught with large inventories of either
parts or finished products. The result is that, starting in late 2008, they
dumped products into the U.S. market at prices substantially lower than in
the past. Televisions, stereos, computers, laptops and more can be had at
prices that would have seemed impossible just a few weeks ago. While consumers
will win in the short run, this product dumping is almost certain to do major
harm to U.S.-based companies that include Dell and HP.
- Google’s android phones will have only moderate success.
Sure, the early adopters will rave about this new mobile phone platform, and
it will get high marks from the third-party developers and open-source software
advocates. But three problems will haunt the Google effort. First, the largest
cellular network companies will not be in any big rush to let Google’s
foot in their door. Second, Google is dabbling in a market in which it has
virtually no expertise – usually a sign of problems to come. But third
and most critical is that the users of smart phones are a fickle lot who like
new stuff at regular intervals. Unless the Android operating system from Google
can re-invent itself every six months, it will be just one of the dozens of
- VoIP companies will die. To understand why, it helps to
first understand that Voice-over IP as a technology (also called “packet-switched”
telephony) is and will be wildly successful as a replacement for the older
and less efficient telephone systems like PBX. Cisco Systems and other vendors
will make a lucrative market out of selling these packet-switched systems
to businesses, and the businesses will save money by making the switch. As
will the major telephone companies, which have already made the switch. The
problem doesn’t lie with them, but rather with the independent Voice-over-IP
companies like Vonage and Skype. Skype was purchased by eBay, but has languished
(though I have personally used and liked it when traveling overseas). Vonage
has never gotten out of the venture capital stage of its life, and is unlikely
to survive the current economic downturn. While this will be the end of these
companies, it will not be the end of the technology of VoIP.
- Internet companies will begin a new wave of consolidation. The reality is that there is not room in the marketplace for 20 large competitors, because this breeds inefficiencies. With fiber optic cabling slowly replacing copper wire as the leading method of carrying and Internet signal, look for the first signs of industry consolidation among network operators that include both cable companies and phone companies. While it is unlikely we will see AT&T merge with Verizon, it is not out of the realm of possibility that AT&T and Verizon will both seek mergers with major cable companies or satellite companies to enhance their Internet viability.
There is more that 2009 will bring, of course. It will include major trends in accounting software that include continuing consolidation and the move to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). It will bring the battle over how to fund rural deployment of broadband. Flexible-screen monitors may or may not finally make a debut during the year. And much more.
Like the other major editors from this and other publications, I’ll be off to Las Vegas in early January to assess what appears there, and to gain better insights into how the year will unfold.