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Interop Fall 2011: The Big Issues Now

I’ve had the privilege of Chairing the Wireless and Mobility Track at the Interop conferences for some time now. Interop Spring, held in Las Vegas, is the largest enterprise IT event in the world, and the New York event, Interop Fall, while smaller, is in no way less intense than its big brother.

In planning the Wireless and Mobility Track, I consider all of the big issues in mobile and wireless, and, in conversation with key industry analysts, consultants, and pundits, including EMF’s own Philippe Winthrop, we produce a program design to dig into the key challenges facing any enterprise as it mobilizes ever more of its operations. There’s no shortage of items to debate, but we are limited by the number of sessions that can be conducted in two and a half days. So there’s always a worry that maybe we didn’t devote enough time to a particular topic.

But if meeting rooms are full (and in general they were, except for the one where we were in competition with free beer on the show floor) and attendees are happy (I got many nice compliments on the program, so let’s go with that for now), I’m happy. No matter what the limitations and constraints might be, a conference is successful, I think, when it provides a clear statement of the challenges and an enumeration of alternatives in addressing these. And I think we succeeded quite well in New York.

Here’s a recap of some of the key points of debate:

Gigabit wireless – Yes, it’s on the way, and yes, there are two standards (802.11ac, in the 5 GHz. bands, and 802.11ad, in the 60 GHz. bands) and yes, there are trade associations, including the Wi-Fi Alliance (who Chaired the session on this topic at Interop) and the Wireless Gigabit Alliance (WiGig) already hard at work positioning the alternatives, and yes, we’ll see products shortly, and yes, you’ll be able to get more than a gigabit of throughput out of WLAN products in the not-too-distance future – next year for sure. But one key item that many people have yet to consider, though, is the need to upgrade to at least 10 Gb Ethernet for backhaul. Copper (10GBASE-T and Cat 6a cabling) may work at least to some degree here, but I think fiber and 40 Gb interconnect have a very bright future in WLANs, albeit with a slow phase-in over time.

Mobile Device/Mobile Application Management – MDM and MAM were hot topics, with some taking the position that managing applications is enough. I disagree, and still believe that mobile device management is going to become standard on all mobile devices. Standards? Not yet. Clear market leaders out of the 50+ players? Sort of, but it’s still early.  Bottom line: should enterprises be getting educated on the possibilities and alternatives here? Yes, they should – and now. We’ll most certainly have more on this next Spring.

Tablets vs. Notebooks – No resolution on this one, despite a wonderful debate session that really dug into the core issues. I still think notebooks, with their “real” operating systems and physical keyboards will be around for a very long time. Windows 8 has the potential to upset the apple cart here, but we’ll see. In the meantime, both devices have their place in the enterprise, and my general guidance remains notebooks for content creation and tablets for content consumption.

In-building cellular coverage – Again, no real resolution of this important issue. All of the core constituencies, including femtocells, distributed antenna systems, and handoff/offload to Wi-Fi made excellent cases. I’m still a believer in the preeminence of Wi-Fi over the long term, primarily because Wi-Fi will be so prevalent in the enterprise and Wi-Fi thus becomes the least-cost solution. It’s also carrier-independent. And offloading to additional spectrum, especially when there is so much of it, is an important strategy regardless.

Local apps vs. the cloud – It’s undeniable: without continuous connectivity, the purely-cloud approach won’t work. But I do think a good case was made for personal productivity apps running locally and enterprise-class apps running in the cloud, albeit with custom local apps as front ends in many if not most cases. But the future of mobility is in the cloud, no matter what the local-app folks say.

BYOD – It’s reality, and enterprises need to deal with it. If they’re smart, it will even work to their advantage, as capital expense goes down and operational expense is managed via policy and MDM. But it won’t be universal anytime soon (some analysts even expressed the opinion and corporate liability will remain the norm!), as many enterprises will regardless continue to insist on a degree of control that might dissuade some users from hanging their handsets and other personal electronics off the corporate network.

LTE – It’s definitely on the way, and available in limited areas today, although at reasonably high prices (put in place by the carriers purposefully to limit demand). But what was particularly interesting in this session was the reiteration of the role of HSPA+, which in effect matches what we can expect from LTE in terms of data throughput. So the evolution to an all-LTE world will take a very long time. And the evolution to “real” LTE, the 100-1000 Mbps wonder as defined by the ITU, will take – well, don’t count on it anytime soon. But, regardless – what amazing technology!

Handsets – Finally, Shiv Bakhshi’s excellent presentation on handset requirements and alternatives ended with a surprising prediction – it’s still too early to predict winners and losers in the handset wars, so anyone writing eulogies for Nokia and RIM might want to cool their jets a bit. He also predicted that even form factors will continue to evolve as we learn more about how real people use these devices and as new technologies come online. After all, who would have thought about gyroscopes and such five years ago? And cloud and M2M will continue to grow in importance as influences on future mobile device design and application.

And, as always, some of the most interesting discussion and debate occurred outside of the session rooms, as attendees enjoyed that benefit unique to live events: the accident. One never really knows what one will hear, see, or learn, or whom one might meet and engage in what becomes a real learning experience. Accidents like this are truly one of the great enrichments of life, and a key reason why events will (thankfully, no matter how the airlines attempt to decimate the travel experience) remain with us probably forever. That, of course, and the fact that all of the above issues are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, keeping our little corner of technology and industry vibrant – if not downright exciting.

3 Comments

  1. Posted October 17, 2011 at 12:37 | Permalink

    Great summation, Craig. If there’s one more wild card worth playing, it’s the still-too-early-to-predict effects of the growth of social networking and social business on wireless and mobility trends. Many of us are already referring to these things collectively as “the mobile, social cloud,” and they’re likely to affect mobility, wireless networking and handset design for at least the next few years. After all, who would have predicted dedicated Facebook buttons on mobile devices a few years ago? I’m looking forward eagerly to more exciting presentations and discussions at future Interop conferences, and to more great panel discussions like the one I got to participate in on local apps and the cloud. Many thanks!

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  2. Posted October 17, 2011 at 16:16 | Permalink

    Great Comment Michael. Social Media is becoming a monster in its own right. Learning how to control the Social Media game will be come highly important as more and more people turn to these outlets for direction. As Enterprises start to embrace these outlets they are also going to find pitfalls. It seems too much time is taken on the social media sites and not doing actual work. There was just a recent study on the number of hours people spend on Facebook etc. It was staggering number to me. It just plays into the consumerization of IT as well. So many up and coming employees want to work less and play more in the office space, but still get top dollar for a career that they maybe devote 25 hours a week to.

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  3. Posted October 18, 2011 at 07:32 | Permalink

    Craig
    wasn’t able to attend the event but based on your summary, seemed I missed a really good one. I would just like to comment on your point about laptops for content creation and tablets for content consumption. I would say laptops for “free format” content creation, e.g. documents and tablets (or even smartphones) for structured content creation, e.g. filling out forms, including images etc. And totally agree about tablets as the best vehicle for content consumption.

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