The future of mobile systems and services is not easy to predict. Many factors may influence its evolution, and we don't know and would not attempt to predict how current trends in the support of packet data communications and applications will play out with the expected integration of a pervasive mobility environment and a variety of computer systems. In this chapter we instead evaluate these trends and their directions.
An example of evaluating the current situation to see what the future may hold can be found in the definition in 3GPP of application programming interfaces (APIs) created for quicker development of mobile applications. Aside from the safe observation that standard interfaces for applications developers such as Parlay API or Web service interfaces will become widely used, it cannot be predicted with any certainty how the services themselves will evolve in wireless systems. Most likely each provider will offer a set of nonportable applications that can't be recreated in another carrier's environment. This in principle will reduce customer churn and attract new customers interested in the particular set of applications. This approach may seem obvious, but it is a radical departure from the current wireless systems paradigm where almost all providers offer the same or similar services.
In the future, mobile data networks are most likely to be content- rather than connectivity-driven. Today's mobile networks offer connectivity service to a person or to a machine, with the content transferred almost always transparent to the wireless service provider. However, in recent times, we have witnessed the trend to offer value-added services to customers above and beyond connectivity, like traffic conditions reports based on location or explicit user query, and stock-market-related services and alerts. These services have been also offered using Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), as well as the classic voice-based or Short Message Service (SMS) interfaces. Often the user experience in these services has been less than stellar, so the expected high take rates were not achieved (perhaps with the exception of SMS), most likely because, fundamentally, customers want a more user-friendly approach to consultation of information. It is expected that with the introduction of packet-switched data and the associated upgrade of user equipment computing and display capabilities and location- and user-profile-based services, users will be presented with a friendlier and more attractive set of applications and easier to use and more functional mobile devices.
Another aspect we consider in this chapter is which services are more likely to be successful. We identify three main categories of services: person-to-person, person-to-machine, and machine-to-machine.
Packet data capabilities pave the way for a new class of applications, such as those based on communication between hosts of data applications. In fact, in the future it may be possible for many smart appliances (fleet management devices located in delivery trucks, vending machines, water meters, and so on) to have a low-cost wireless data interface through which they can exchange information with remote computers located in fleet management centers, help desk and diagnostic centers, credit validation and authorization centers, and information repositories or software repositories for upgrade downloads. Mobile phones themselves could be used for automated toll and parking fee collection, and could receive upgrades and personalization data via their wireless interfaces. Among others, broadcast and multicast service support is being standardized in 3GPP, and they will surely foster the birth of new applications based on the delivery of the same content to multiple users at the same time—content that in the past could not be delivered over cellular wireless networks in a profitable manner.
In addition to service categories discussion in this chapter we present possible scenarios based on past developments, current trends, and predicted market directions. We begin with current standards directions in the industry, then we evaluate possible development scenarios (MVNO-specific included) and the roles advanced services such as Mobile VPN would play in them. We conclude the chapter with an analysis of WLAN deployment trends and their business and technical positioning in the industry versus current cellular systems (competition versus convergence).
Note that the latter is a class of services that is not very common in today's wireless networks.