Wireless Memory LaneMonday, November 19, 2007
Interesting world we live in. Over the past six months or so, I have been called on to be an expert witness in several lawsuits regarding intellectual property and prior art. I am not an attorney, nor do I pretend to be, but we all know, unfortunately, that we live in litigious times. Some of these lawsuits are merited because the companies are protecting their intellectual property, but some we are seeing today are from companies and individuals who were given patents that, in my estimation, should never have been granted due to the existence of prior art. It is in the area of this prior art where my experience is being called upon.
I have been surprised to learn how many attorneys are referring to my book Using Wireless Communications in Business (Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1994) and articles I have written over my years of involvement with wireless communications as sources of information about prior art. Unfortunately, many of the newsletters I have written between 1985 and about 2001 aren't available online or even in digital form. I hope to find someone willing to undertake the task of converting my printed copies into a digital format at some point.
Going back through the newsletters to prepare for these cases has been an amazing journey. As have many of us, I have witnessed a tremendous number of advances in both mobile computing and wireless communications.
My earlier newsletters ran from 28 to 36 pages each month and covered a wide variety of topics dealing with the issues, hype, successes and failures of our industries as we progressed. Reviewing these newsletters to identify articles relating to the current lawsuits is like taking a trip down Memory Lane.
For example, in the November 1989 Issue of Andrew Seybold's Outlook On Professional Computing, I wrote an article about handheld organizers and an editorial about wanting software to move and synchronize my PIM (calendar and phonebook) between my desktop, laptop and handheld organizer. At that time, LapLink was selling software that enabled moving files from one computer to another, but not between a computer and a handheld. And these were only file level transfers, not record level needed for true data synchronization.
As a result of this article, Keith Crozier formed a company called IntelliLink and wrote the software I asked for. His first product recognized several PIMs that were popular on desktops and a number of handheld devices. That start-up sold to PumaTech, which became IntelliSync and is now part of Nokia.
The More Things Change.
As I read through back issues, I am amazed at how fast things have moved and yet how many of the same issues we still face today. For example, in February 1990, I wrote an article about the new company ARDIS, which was formed as a joint venture between IBM and Motorola to provide wireless data services on a commercial basis. I ended that article with the following:
"There is still, I believe, something missing in all of this. None of the above types of [wireless] communications channels addresses the real missing link, the user interface. I sincerely hope that with all of this attention being paid to making it easy to connect to our office computer systems, someone, somewhere, will make it equally easy for the new user to connect, and then get the data he needs in order to accomplish his job. This would be a truly great remote data communications system."
Here we are 27 years later, still dealing with the same ease-of-use issues. Things are better than when data was strictly text-based, but we are still not where we need to be when it comes to usability.
The first mention of wireless data in my newsletters was in 1989 when I reviewed a cellular modem that provided dial-up data access at an astounding 10 Kbps. By 1992, I was including a monthly wireless data column in Andrew Seybold's Outlook on Professional Computing and in the middle of 1992 added a newsletter within a newsletter called Andrew Seybold's Outlook on Mobile Computing. These started out with monthly tutorials on the technologies offered at that time: RAM Mobile Data (Mobitex), ARDIS (RD-LAP), the promise of CDPD (announced but not commercial until 1995), cellular voice, dial-up data services and paging systems that were serving more than 60 million customers in the United States.
In March 1991, I wrote an article for Datamation and reprinted it in the September 1992 newsletter. The article was called, "2001: A Portable PC Odyssey." It was fun to re-read this article and see how wrong I was about what would be the norm in 2001. I had described my new computer which, in addition to full handwriting recognition, included the ability to listen to my voice and respond via voice. It included a standard 68-pin, credit-card sized digital cellular card, a satellite link, an active color screen with a resolution of 2,024 X 2,024 and 100MBs of solid state storage. "The new system incorporates a series of processors made by Intel. The 80886 is the core unit with an operation speed of 100 MHz, and has two co-resident integrated modules attached. I've not yet tried some of the more advanced features of this system. I haven't dialed into my computer e-mail system and had the messages converted to voice for me, nor have I tried to interact with the on-line and real-time services for airline reservations or some of the other links available to me."
By 1993, Andrew Seybold's Outlook on Mobile Computing was a standalone newsletter and every issue contained articles about wireless access. RadioMail, the first company to offer wireless email access, was big in 1993, RAM and ARDIS were selling devices on their networks and CDPD was on the horizon. In December 1993, a review about Comdex/Fall contained the following: "We do not doubt that CDPD will be deployed, nor even that it will work for some types of wireless data requirements. What we do doubt is that it will be a viable option during 1994 (and even into 1995), and that a nationwide seamless CDPD system will emerge anytime soon. It appears as though the effort by the cellular industry (McCaw) to convince all who want to be convinced is paying off. But we believe the system has a long way to go before it offers a truly viable wireless network option. We are amazed that the press attending Comdex has so completely swallowed the McCaw and CDPD marketing hype and, like many computer vendors, tout it as being the be-all, do-all, end-all way of moving data over a wireless connection."
Change the date from December 1993 to December 2007, replace CDPD with WiMAX and re-read my comments. Even the name fits, although it is no longer McCaw Cellular but rather Clearwire this time around.
What I have learned from all of this nostalgic research is that even though we have had great technology advances over the past fifteen years, we are still facing many of the same issues, especially when it comes to supplying end-to-end, usable wireless services.
I have often been right about a technology, product or service, and sometimes really blew it-but hopefully learned something in the process. Among the things I missed was the success of the first Palm Pilot, the failure of Simon, the world's first smartphone, developed by IBM and sold on the BellSouth analog wireless network, and that until recently, Microsoft has had little influence on wireless. Back in the mid-1990s, I predicted that Microsoft's wireless offerings would be robust and solid, which they are today―it just took a lot longer than I thought.
Perhaps it is time to go back to where my book ended in 1994 and write a sequel. But as fast as things are moving today, by the time I finished it, it would already be out of date!
Andrew M. Seybold