The Golden Age of Wireless...
"The human voice carries entirely too far as it is...
and now you fellows come along and seek to complicate matters..."
- Mark Twain.
A golden age of wireless is coming ... really! Despite the proliferation
of cell phones and PDAs, very few handheld devices are currently
being used to access the Internet and fewer still are used as a
conduit to access Information Management Systems.
Today's wireless landscape is still nascent - standards are far
from being established and competing systems are in a battle for
mind and market share. And the battlefield is littered with the
blooded bodies of yesterday's heroes.
It seems like yesterday that WAP (Wireless Access Protocol) was
going to take the world by storm, but perhaps the most memorable
thing to emerge from the early days of the WAP revolution was the
slogan: "WAP is Crap".
WAP is not the only standard who's fortunes have risen and fallen
and risen overnight. Bluetooth can be everyone's darling one day
and the next ... well who knows what tomorrow will bring?
|End users can be excused for being confused by
all of the hype and posturing and misinformation that is an
integral part of the wireless battle. One need only glance at
the following chart to realize that the overlapping and competing
standards are enough to confuse even the wireless cognoscenti.
...end users can be excused for being confused...
Which standard is best? And for which application?
Well of course the proponents of each will tell you that theirs
is. And they may be right. The simple answer is: "it depends".
It depends on what you want to accomplish and in what
If you want to move a massive amount of data very
quickly in an enclosed environment (location based services), say
a hospital of a university setting, then you'll want to look closely
at the 802.11x standards. If, on the other hand, you need access
to always on email, (small data packets) in any location and at
any speed, well then, the Blackberry would seem to be your obvious
And in between? Well, "that's the rub" isn't
it? In between you'll find Bluetooth and HomeRF, (connects devices
at short ranges) And GSM, GRPS, Ricochet and UMTS (connects devices
at longer ranges). But this may be a misleading over simplification.
Things are not that simple here either, ...that would be too easy
Moreover, there is the much-heralded third-generation
(3G) communications networks, with their promises of "always-on"
data connections for high-speed mobile Internet access to
consider. But the road to 3G has turned out to have quite
a few twists and turns of its own. In Japan, Europe, and the
U.S., launches of 3G networks have been slower than anticipated,
as companies work with new technologies and face the high
costs of buying 3G spectrum licenses and building new networks.
However, there is an alternative for users who
need mobile Internet access, but just can't wait for 3G. Improved
wireless technology, called "2.5G" because it spans
the gap between the current generation (2G) and the third,
is delivering some of the promises of 3G now. The most widespread
of the 2.5G technologies is GPRS, or General Packet Radio
Service. GPRS is an upgrade to existing networks based on
the leading 2G standard for digital wireless, GSM (Global
System for Mobile Communications). Primarily a software upgrade,
GPRS requires neither new spectrum nor new networks to be
built. Yet it offers much of the speed and increased functionality
associated with 3G.
- Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS):
3G packet based technology that will be able to support
data transfer rates up to 2Mbps. Common frequency
band range from 1885-2025MHz, although spectrum allocation
has been problematic in some countries including the
US. Global deployment is anticipated in late 2002.
- General Packet Radio Service (GPRS): 2.5G packet
based technology that offers data transfer rates of
56-114Kps. Global deployment began in late 2000 and
is ongoing. EDGE (an extension of GPRS) can support
data transfer rates up to 384Kbps.
- Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA2000) Harmonized
wideband 3G technology supporting data transfer rates
of 144Kbps -2Mbps. A "transition path" technology
for carriers currently operating CDMA networks. Global
deployment is anticipated to begin in early 2002.
"GPRS is really going to have us set up for 3G,
because we'll have the servers, and much of the supporting software,
all in place," says Motorola's Bob Schukai, director of 3G
Products for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
A solution and a new revolution?
The launch of GPRS networks is likely to lead to the
establishment of the kinds of services and service-provider infrastructure
that were once known as the hallmarks of 3G. GPRS, then, is the
real communications "revolution", well maybe more of an
evolution. Future 3G launches will be distinguished by even faster
"What's 3G? It's GPRS bandwidth on steroids," says Schukai.
According to the GSM Association, more than 60 wireless carriers
have now launched commercial GPRS services. BT Cellnet launched
the world's first commercial GPRS network, in the U.K.Schukai points
out that the carrier was also a major customer of Motorola's GSM
network infrastructure equipment, which could be readily upgraded
to GPRS technology.
More and Faster Services
The kinds of services envisioned for 2.5G and 3G are those that
can thrive when users have convenient, high-speed access to the
wireless Internet. Short-text messaging, already popular, promises
to be better and faster. GPRS networks should also enable the kinds
of applications that have struggled to emerge in 2G networks, which
use circuit-switched technology optimized for voice calls. Data-friendly
GPRS networks may shine, for example, in offering more robust on-the-go
e-mail access as well as e-commerce and a wider variety of services
through WAP enabled websites.
WAP promises to bring greater Internet functionality to mobile
phones, just as the web browser and HTML opened up the Internet
to hundreds of millions of PC users. According to Schukai, WAP got
a "bum rap" for a couple of reasons when introduced in
2G networks. "The billing model was dreadful. While reading
and thinking about what you have on your screen, you were being
charged for it. You had this need to speed through WAP pages as
fast as you could."
That problem is a result of the circuit-switched nature of 2G networks.
GPRS is different, says Schukai. "GPRS gives the carriers the
ability to connect you and only charge you for downloading pages.
You're not charged for reading and thinking."
"There are markets where GPRS is really cruising," says
Schukai. "Germany has been up and running quite a while now,
Italy is up and running, the Nordic countries are up and running."
Packets are the Key
The emergence of data services is now more likely because GPRS
introduces packet-switching technology to the traditionally circuit-switched
GSM network. Significantly, GPRS packet-switching allows for an
"always-on" connection to data services for the user,
and is the key to the much faster data-transfer GPRS offers.
The "always-on" feature of any broadband service is an
obvious convenience. Just as a cable modem or corporate network
saves a PC user the hassle of logging on with a dial-up modem, GPRS
networks allow for quick access for the mobile subscriber. In fact,
a user can field a phone call even while using wireless data. The
data session is simply paused while the subscriber chats away; the
data session resumes when the call is over.
Furthermore, the GPRS method of packet-switching means data rates
faster than that available with 2G networks. GPRS data transfer
could, in theory, exceed 100 kbps; but for real-world applications,
according to Schukai, users can achieve 25 to 35 kbps today.
So as the wireless world continues it's painful evolution to 3G
the future looks bright. But what's happening today that can have
an immediate impact on mobile informatics?
Go to page 2 for "Which
Way to Wireless Wonderland"