The internet however is just one part of the communications revolution. Perhaps the biggest change has been in personal communications with the cell phone. Today cell phones have massive coverage and are used by large percentages of the population. New forms of communication have come about with the cell phone, in particular using text messages. The key development in business communications brought about by the cell phone is one never needs to be out of contact. The cell phone created the unwired communication world.
The internet for many years was limited to being a wired form of communication, either through permanent or dial up connections. The cell phone started the change in this allowing limited internet access using the cell phone as an internet modem. This however was not as fast as using a dial up wired approach. The internet became a limited unconnected medium with WiFi technology using wireless technology for broadband high-speed internet access. By limited I mean that it is limited to operation within reach of a WiFi hotspot or within a closed office environment. Such hotspots are rapidly appearing in hotels, coffee shops, airports, and certain travel and retail centres.
We are now entering a major move forward where cellular technology will approach the speed of broadband internet access. The new 3G cellular technologies are slowly being introduced in Europe, and are already available in Japan. This will allow unwired high-speed internet access to spread. The difference however with WiFi and cellular technology is that WiFi allows multiple users to work together, whereas cellular technology is one to one communication technology where each party needs to know the other persons access information.
WiFi is now becoming very widespread. In my case if I am travelling I am careful to try to find a hotel with a WiFi broadband access to the internet. I also use my cell phone connected via Bluetooth wireless technology to access the internet where I cannot find a WiFi hotspot, or if I am travelling for example by train. What I am now seeing is WiFi suppliers starting to work together to allow global roaming in a similar fashion to cell phone operations, to other company’s clients.
WiFi gets high
There are also seeing new developments coming in WiFi technology. A number of airlines are enabling their planes to be WiFi hotspots to allow continuous internet access while travelling. Another example is in the UK where BT and the Department of Trade and Industry are evaluating the feasibility of creating a WiFi network called Traffimatics on British roads. In this vehicles would be WiFi enabled to allow information to be transferred between vehicles and traffic control centres. This could be used to help control congestion, and optimise road utilisation. No doubt the police would also use such communications technology linked with GPS to monitor road users and apply speeding controls and penalties.
This move of major areas of mass communication in the way information is received is going to trigger a further change in the way we do business. At the same time as major changes are happening in how information is transferred, we are also seeing continuous development in the tools we use for information. One of the key devices of the past few years has been the Blackberry. This is a mix between a cell phone and a PDA (personal data assistant). It allows users to constantly receive e-mails without logging on. This is just the first of such products. I am now using a Sony PDA which has inbuilt WiFi and which communicates via Bluetooth with my cell phone. This allows me to stay in touch wherever I am. We shall see devices such as my Sony PDA and the Blackberry being commonly used within the next few years and we shall never be out of contact.
For many years we have advised by some so-called experts, and some real experts like Bill Gates, that the internet will severely impact on published print products. Predictions have been that newspapers, magazines and books may disappear. I have never agreed with such interpretations, but do see that new forms of information delivery will have a serious impact on print products. Just look at the success of Apple’s iPod on changing the way we listen to music. How long will it be before iPod technology merges with the cellular, WiFi and GPS enabled PDAs to create the next generation of information products? In this we can expect to have news and other forms of information to be sent to us on a continuous basis. This could also include video data for entertainment purposes. Such predictions have been made for some time, but today such projections are close to becoming reality.
Impact on print
This will impact upon the printing industry in many ways. It will generate new forms of publishing which may reduce the amount of print published information. It may however allow linkages of print and digital information, giving new opportunities for printers to add value to the services they provide. The continuous means of communication will also provide new opportunities for printers to provide better services in how to work with their customers. Today printers understand much more about what the internet can do, and are more ready to benefit from the changes than they were in the first implementations of the internet. The key thing however is to understand that such changes are coming, and to prepare for what it will mean in future for the printing industry.