The Untethered Future
It's Thursday at 6 p.m. and you are driving in your car with your family to go camping for the long weekend. You're almost there when your Bluetooth phone headset rings. It's one of your key clients and this is the call you have been waiting for all week. The contract needs to be signed now, so that tomorrow the purchase order can be issued, and on Monday work can begin. “No problem," you say. "Just e-mail it to me.”
At the next gas station, you pull over, boot your tablet PC, insert your 3G WWAN card and hop online from the middle of nowhere. You check your e-mail, open the contract, get the stylus and sign it right there, on the screen. Save it in a PDF format and e-mail it back. You do all of this before the kids are back from the restroom.
Information technology has in the past 10 years completely changed the way small businesses live and work, affording a completely different approach to pursuing and managing business possibilities, balancing the life-work challenge, and destroying barriers to entry into markets and new opportunities. When we look though at what are the root causes of these change, we can actually pinpoint that the most radical transformations in the way small businesses do business have come primarily as a result of the commoditization – and consequently the affordability – of three specific technologies: notebook computers, mobile telephony, and broadband Internet access. The inexpensive availability of these three major technologies has driven most of the change, directly or indirectly, fueling trends such as the development of Web-based software applications, mobile email, search advertising, ecommerce, and even texting, blogging or social networking.
In the background of our entrepreneurial lives though, a fourth major force is quickly materializing, rapidly changing our expectations in terms of how quickly and under what circumstances we have complete access to our full business capabilities: ubiquitous wireless data access. Wireless technologies are rapidly taking over across all forms of connectivity, changing the way we interact with information and affording a level of operational flexibility never before thought possible.
Five standards rule the market and cover all of today’s connectivity needs.
- Bluetooth -- With peak data rate of up to 3 megabits per second (Mbps) and range of about 30 feet, it is used for short-range connectivity of utility devices such as cameras, printers, headsets, microphones, mice, and mobile phones.
- Wireless USB --With peak data rate of about 480 Mbps and range of several meters, it is used for very short range data cable replacement and provides the same connectivity to peripherals that normal USB does, sans the wires.
- Wi-Fi -- With peak data rate of up to 300 Mbps and range of up to 300 feet, it is used for Local Area Networking (LAN) of computers and some enabled peripherals, such as printers or shared storage appliances.
- 3G Mobile Broadband -- With range dependent on 3G network coverage, but generally in the order of miles, and download speed about 500 kilobits per second (Kbps), it is used for wide area Internet access for either for 3G enabled Smartphones or add-on PC cards or USB adapters.
- Wi-MAX -- With range in the order of miles and download speed of over 1.5 Mbps, this new technology is to provide wireless broadband access as an alternative to wired broadband, like cable and DSL, to fixed, portable, and mobile receivers. This standard is also being positioned to provide the infrastructure for the next generation of mobile telephony networks.
With the Apple iPhone 3G slated for a July debut, the eyes of the mobile computing world are all pointed towards the first ultra mobile device that can provide ubiquitous Internet access comparable with the experience you can have on a computer with broadband. Expect this to become the norm. 3G technology, married with a full capability Web browser and a sizable, high quality touch screen is an open door to bring the incredible wealth of low-cost Web-based applications to the hands of millions of small businesses.
This un-tethered business future comes with the demanding task of building whole new rules to strike the right life-work balance. While in fact promoting higher flexibility, ubiquitous connectivity expose the dangers of being “on the job 24/7.”
Some may say that wireless technologies are the modern “ball and chain.” I believe that if you did not know you could have signed your contract on the go, you -- like every small business owner on this planet -- would have been waiting, and waiting in your office for that contract to come in. Instead you’re almost in Big Sur and can hear the kids asking, “Are we there yet, Dad?”
Like for most things in life, knowing when and where to draw the line is the key. Loose the wires, stay in control, and find a new life.
Andrea Peiro is a recognized authority, author, analyst and speaker on high-tech marketing and use of information technology in small and mid-sized businesses. He has been frequently interviewed and featured in such media outlets as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Inc. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.