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January - 2000 - issue > Cover Feature
No Strings Attached
Saturday, January 1, 2000

Peering into the crystal ball reveals that wireless technology will someday allow people to instantaneously interact with a global network in real time for customized business and personal information and communications.

That’s a far cry from the days of pager messages limited in length, cellphones limited to audio transmission, devices working independently of each other and the Internet accessible only from a desktop computer.

In time, super-wideband networks will provide the data rates to access the full range of Internet offerings. Service bureaus will deliver a constant supply of information personalized to suit each subscriber. Sophisticated wireless devices with next-generation technology in the coming years will provide email, voice messaging, video, access to corporate databases and synchronization with other wired and wireless devices. In addition, Bluetooth technology will connect an individual’s various mobile devices and desktop computers will get connected to easily share information such as voice messages, emails, corporate data and Web browsing results. .

Imagine this: Anyone standing on a corner in Finland can view a financial statement on a handheld device while discussing fiscal prudence by speakerphone with the company president, who is viewing the same document at the same time from the home office in Nebraska.

The technology needed to transmit wireless data will fuel these and many other advances in the wireless market. Voice and email messaging laid the groundwork for this gradual but definite shift to prioritize content over personal messaging capabilities. New protocols, standards, Web-to-wireless technologies and advanced networks have given us a gateway to the future.

Wireless Messaging and the Internet

The advent of wireless data stems from the popularity of two-way messaging, voice messaging and the Internet. Whereas messaging devices have proven their obvious value, mobile phones and two-way pagers have captured the wireless market’s attention. Closing in on that popularity, however, in North America is the Internet.

The Internet and mobile devices are running equal in adoption in the United States and Canada. This leads many to believe that the wireless market wants more substance than just basic communications. The market wants data. In fact, service providers have noticed a sizeable increase in wireless data minutes, and thus, revenues. That trend is expected to continue. Dataquest predicts that 12 times the current 3 million wireless data subscribers will demand services in 2003. During that time, revenues are expected to grow from $460 million to $3 billion.

A similar merging of mobile devices and the Internet is expected worldwide. By 2004, at least 40 percent of business-to-consumer e-commerce transactions outside North America will be conducted with a wireless device.

Networks, Devices and Services

Although most analysts agree that wireless data and messaging over the Internet is the way that both businesses and consumers will eventually communicate, the leap forward won’t happen overnight. Innovation is required in the areas of network infrastructure, devices and services. A quick look at the early days of wireless technology will allow us to see the foundation of what is to come.

While paging has been around for 30 or 40 years, alphanumeric messaging for the general public debuted in 1985. By the early 1990s, one-way messaging was widely adopted by consumers. The networks, however, were over-extended because they were deployed to conserve capacity, not expand it. Although this new technology increased system capacity by over 200 percent compared to previous technology, this increase was not sufficient to support growing demand for nationwide alphanumeric messaging.

SkyTel pioneered narrowband PCS in 1995. This breakthrough for paging enthusiasts opened the door to two-way messaging. It provided a solution to capacity issues by increasing transmission speed from 6,400 bps (bits per second) to 25,600 bps and spectrum reuse for national messaging. Consumers could receive and reply to messages from a pager-sized device with a battery life of three to four weeks. Messages could be sent to many different users through a single transmission. Messaging devices could deliver news headlines and weather reports. Two-way technology also provided quarry functionality to obtain information on demand such as stock quotes and flight schedule updates.

With the advent of the Internet, users came to depend on email as a preferred method of communication. As Internet and email usage increased on the desktop level, the industry saw increases in the length and frequency of short messages on mobile devices. Message content was vitally important for mobile professionals who received an average of five times as many emails as voice messages. As for mobile devices, the average message length of 40 characters more than doubled.

It was becoming evident that messaging devices, which excelled at short and peer messaging, were not designed to provide full email functionality. As a consolation, savvy NPCS carriers introduced brief news and information tailored to the device user. The industry soon recognized, however, that bringing email capabilities to mobile devices via the Internet was the answer. Service providers began designing servers and transmission equipment to interact with the Internet, regardless of the network their customers used. GSM, CDMA or TDMA networks could interconnect with the World Wide Web. Companies had developed the technology to deliver email and Internet content to handheld computers. Today, mobile devices can accommodate emails of up to 500 characters to mirror the ability to write emails of unlimited lengths on wired computers. At that time, users of handheld computers could also get weather reports, track packages, view the latest stock quotes and sports scores, get flight information and compare prices on consumer products.

Email, originally an application on desktop computers, had arrived on handheld computers. This challenged the notion that workers must sit at their desks. With two-way communications tools, personal digital assistants such as those running on the Palm Computing Platform could deliver emails.

The popularity of the Internet has convinced many device manufacturers to introduce mini Web browsers to their product development plans. Businesses and consumers increasingly want to conduct e-commerce and interact with virtual networks over intranets in order to access corporate databases. With dynamic mobile connections, the prospects of conducting business throughout the enterprise can today be accomplished with sophisticated software and powerful handheld devices and computers.

Switching to Wireless Data

As cellular and PCS manufacturers and carriers begin to introduce an array of voice and content devices and services to accommodate the broad potential of wireless data, two problems persist: limited bandwidth and devices that won’t accommodate wireless data.

Today’s typical data rates of 9.9 Kbps and 14 Kbps are poor. Service providers are expanding networks to deliver data at a faster rate of 19.2 Kbps. Technologies on the horizon could boost rates to the range of 64 Kbps to 144 Kbps. If the market wants to deliver Web browsing and Internet content comparable to desktop speeds, it must meet these higher rates. In the coming years, the development of plug-in wireless modems for Internet appliances such as handheld computers will drive the higher rates.

Designing devices to accommodate wireless data requires a fresh look at products. The problem is that the graphical user interface of the typical Internet page is not really suitable for today’s dedicated messaging devices. A 17-inch monitor does not compare to a screen that fits in the palm of your hand.

Cell phone screens have increased in size, but today’s handheld computers offer the greatest potential. With a screen measuring two-by-three inches, network-connected mobile computers are ideal for scaled-down Internet sites.

Applications of Note

Device users want freedom. They want wireless devices with desktop functionality. They want high-speed and boundless communications. Instead of dragging along a laptop to get email, they want palm-sized platforms with email and Internet access. More and more devices will offer one-touch messaging and instant notification. More and more will offer full browser capability (although wireless devices are certainly not likely to access the same amount of information and graphics available to desktops).

Message-sharing between a user’s devices will also become easier. Bluetooth technology and modem cards that plug into laptops will allow users to update personal schedules, add or change items on calendars and upload emails for reading on the road.

Business professionals will find that linking wireless data devices to their corporate database has unique advantages to performing daily tasks. Placing orders, updating customer records and reviewing order histories will be done remotely and instantaneously without phone calls and faxes to a central office.

Mobile professionals and consumers will also be able to personalize the content sent from the service provider when travelling. They will be able to ask for periodic updates about flight departures and gate assignments — say, every 15 or 30 minutes. It’s up to the user to decide. Consumers will tailor information based on their locale. If Jane is in a new city and wants to find a recommended restaurant, she can not only access a map and find her way there using GPS navigation data, but she can make her reservation online.

Mobile devices of the future will be able to access anything on the Internet. With continued software and network developments, wireless data will be just as familiar and personalized as the common alphanumeric message to “call home” was 15 years ago.

Jai Bhagat directs Web-to-wireless strategies on the board of directors for JP Systems Inc. He is also past chairman of the Personal Communications Industry Association (PCIA) board of directors. Contact jai@siliconindia.com

Dayakar Puskoor is chief executive officer of JP Systems Inc. Puskoor has personally written numerous patents. Contact dayakar@siliconindia.com

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