Growing numbers of Wi-Fi enabled laptops, GPRS and 3G mobile handsets will make 2004 a breakthrough year for wireless data use, according to Ovum.
The analyst predicts that the rising number of GPRS and 3G handsets will encourage content and application developers by giving them a decent-sized market to aim at.
"After huge technical teething troubles, it looks as though mainstream 3G services and handsets will finally reach us in late 2004," said Julian Hewett, chief analyst at Ovum, in a research note.
He added that, while public wireless local area networking suffers from immaturity and an unclear business model, the number of Wi-Fi enabled laptops and the number of hotspots is growing rapidly.
"Development of the 'wireless enterprise' has been slow. But we expect to see more commitment from chief information officers in 2004," said Hewett.
"The key question with wireless data is that we still have no idea what people will pay for."
But the analyst warned that it is vital that people do pay for wireless data, otherwise the long-term future of the mobile industry will be grim.
"My belief is that, in the long term, mobile data will simply make up for declining mobile voice revenues," explained Hewett.
For smarter devices than phones, such as PDAs and laptops, the future seems a little brighter.
Analyst Datamonitor said last week that the convergence of voice and data networks would see more wireless networks deployed by enterprises, with manufacturing, financial services, education and healthcare picked out as key verticals for the technology.
Jess Thompson-Hughes, managing director of React Technologies, which resells Aruba wireless networking kit, said that the firm was seeing a high level of interest in wireless networks, although few full rollouts just yet.
He indicated that interest is particularly keen in financial services. "There are a lot of demos and trials being conducted by financial services firms," he said.
"In the US there are commercial deployments, but over here it is mostly still trials."
Thompson-Hughes said that the security fears expressed by many corporates were gradually receding as they saw how to identify and eliminate rogue access points to wired networks, which he said were their biggest concerns.
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