What if you had an interactive touchscreen on your wall with apps that controlled almost every object in your home? Or a desk that would automatically start charging your wireless device as soon as you sat it down?
What about a virtual concierge who appears when you walk into a store and offers coupons or suggests items to purchase? Or recipe suggestions as you scan items in the grocery store? Multi-Gigabit connected speeds per second, anyone?
All of these scenarios (and much more) are being honed by wireless networking engineers and vendors, and will become commonplace within the next two years. Everything, and I mean everything, will eventually be Wi-Fi and Internet-enabled, even things we don't traditionally think of as Internet devices.
I attended an extraordinary panel at this year's CES that featured four leaders in the wireless industry: Ericsson's Arun Bhikshesvaran; Scott Pomerantz, a Broadcom senior vice president and general manager; Derek Peterson, senior vice president of Engineering for Boingo; and Edgar Figueroa, the CEO of the Wi-Fi Alliance. These four industry leaders detailed what we can expect to see develop in the wireless world over the next 12 to 18 months.
Boingo's Peterson said that our devices will just seamlessly and securely connect to an available hotspot without needing an app or the user needing to know an SSID. All major mobile operating systems already have this capability built-in, as do most commercial access points already deployed. The industry is currently working on next-generation hotspot trials and fine-tuning business models.
Instant user recognition
Apps continue to evolve to the point where you walk into an environment and you can be recognised within that environment, if you choose. An application of this technology will be a digital smart shopping cart – Wi-Fi would be put into the cart combined with flat-panel displays that would have a virtual concierge to personalise your shopping experience. Peterson said this is an example of the "Internet of Things," where everything is connected and the digital and physical world continues to mesh.
Wireless will get easier to use
The Wi-Fi Alliance's Figueroa noted that wireless technology is not the easiest to use, but "once you have it set up and working, it's a beautiful thing." Still, he said that a big focus in the industry is to make wireless technology easier and easier for users.
Device-to-device communications at a touch
Ericsson's Bhikshesvaran said that a big industry development will be in the collaboration between Wi-Fi and NFC. We will be able to just touch one device to another to establish a connection. He also went on to say that these devices will also be designed to consume even less energy than mobile devices now.
Broadcom's Pomerantz said that Broadcom – the vendor the makes many of the chips and components that go into mobile devices – continues to focus on "combo" chips. A chip may have 5G Wi-Fi 11ac and LTE, for example. He said that such chips pose an engineering challenge because "it's not so easy to have 5 or 6 radios on one little piece of silicon."
Continued reassurance to customers on privacy and control
Pomerantz said that Broadcom strives to ensure that customers are comfortable with wireless tech. The goal is to allow people to control what they want – but obviously, not such granular control such as at the chip or firmware level – he stated. Broadcom wants its customers like Samsung and Apple to have the ability to show their customers the ways they are protected. He cited repeated confirmations on devices such as asking if a user wants their location to be detected. He stressed that the industry wants to over-communicate to users what they can control, especially after the NSA blow-up. "You don't want to come off as hiding anything" with regard to users and their wireless devices, he insisted.
Soon, we will be able to just throw a device on a surface and have it charge on that surface; there’ll be no more messing with cables. There were quite a few demonstrations of wireless chargers at CES. They should be on the market soon, and afterwards we will see more integration into furniture and surfaces.
Very dense networks
Bhikshesvaran said we will have very dense networks that are more resistant to interference and will become "faster and faster."
Spoken of in the industry for the last couple of years, Figueroa said that Wi-Gig will become an actuality in the next two years. This is a new version of Wi-Fi that moves into a new spectrum with high frequency, and data rates can reach up to 7 Gigabits per second. Currently, according to Figueroa, vendors are now testing WiGig chipsets.
For more on this year's CES, check out our roundup of the best products of CES 2014 which includes our favourite piece of networking hardware.