It may sometimes seem as if the United States is stuck in a wireless rut, with patchy access to Wi-Fi and relatively slow cellular networks, but better connectivity could be just around the corner. In March, when the FCC auctioned off new slices of wireless spectrum, Verizon obtained a significant portion, which it promised to make open, enabling access to previously off-limits airwaves. (See “What the FCC Auction Means” and “Opening the Airwaves.”) Another slice of wireless spectrum will become available when television stations switch from analogue to digital in February, and researchers spent much of 2008 developing these new “white space” devices. (See “The Coming Wireless Revolution.”) Wi-Fi could also get a boost from an Intel research project that involved rewriting the software in routers to quickly beam data over more than 60 miles. (See “Long-Distance Wi-Fi.”) Another emerging point-to-point wireless technology that was announced this year makes use of an underused part of the spectrum to blast more than 10 gigabits of data per second through the air. (See “Wireless at Fiber Speeds.”)
For people who love smart phones, 2008 was a big year. Apple opened its iPhone to developers and launched the app store, letting them sell software for the phone directly to users. The apps released so far range from the sublime to the ridiculous–from applications that search the Web via voice commands to games that make use of the iPhone’s built-in accelerometer, and virtual musical instruments that rely on the touch screen and microphone. (See “What to Expect from the Open iPhone” and “What Does Apple Want?”) Google’s big mobile play–a mobile operating system called Android–also finally arrived on its first phone, the T-Mobile G1. (See “Awaiting the Google Phone” and “Android Has Arrived.”) But for some people, smaller and simpler is still better when it comes to cell phones. An Israeli startup called Modu Mobile introduced a modular handset that slides into a number of different skins and even a car adapter. (See “Rethinking the Cell Phone.”) With so many cell phones available, obsolete devices are rapidly piling up in desk drawers, but there’s good news for the environmentally conscious: more companies than ever are shipping obsolete phones to specialized recycling centers, where they are either rejuvenated or melted down for the precious metals that they contain. (See “Where Cell Phones Go to Die.”)
Hear more from IBM at EmTech 2014.