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Cisco: Customers Determine Wireless Success

BOSTON -- Wi-Fi emerged in the early 1990s but didn't take off until the late 1990s. By then, laptops were common and consumers wanted to use them for un-tethered network access from airports, coffee shops, hotels and homes.

"Every successful wireless technology needs a dominant application to get it started," Charlie Giancarlo, Cisco CTO, said in his keynote address at the Next Generation Networks trade show here today.

For some technologies, those applications still aren't clear, said Giancarlo, a Cisco veteran who was promoted to CTO in July.

Giancarlo cited ultrawideband and WiMAX as examples. Cisco, a network equipment giant, was an early investor in UWB startups, Giancarlo said.

"I'm not sure home networking around entertainment is going to be [a dominant driver for UWB]," he said, adding that new iterations of Wi-Fi will be focused on enabling the digital home. There may still be uses for UWB in tying together networked components in a small environment, he said.

networks. And many have already begun 3G build-outs.

That said, Giancarlo, who in addition to being Cisco's CTO is president of its Linksys home networking unit, sees a number of cases where consumers are forcing networking players toward convergence.

Giancarlo sees four areas -- entertainment, communications, personal computing and home management -- that are moving together, both from an application and device standpoint.

Applications, such as VoIP , camera phones, photo services, music and video downloading, are blurring the lines. New applications are also emerging. For example, putting live voice capabilities in game consoles has worked in China.

"[The feature lets] gamers hurl insults at each other at the same time they are shooting each other while gaming," Giancarlo said. "It turns out they are willing to pay for that ability."

There are still hurdles to greater convergence and usability, not the least of which are security and digital rights management, Giancarlo said. For the most part, these challenges require a broad industry approach, he said.

On an individual company level, Cisco and others need to make products easier to use.

"If we're to continue this broadband revolution ... the service and the equipment need to be much more tightly tied so the experience is easy for users," Giancarlo said.