Wireless phone use is taking off around the world. Many of us would no longer know how to cope without our cellular phones.
Always being connected offers us flexibility in our lifestyles, makes us more productive in our jobs, and makes us feel more secure.
So far, voice has been the primary wireless application. But with the Internet continuing to influence an increasing proportion of our daily lives, and more of our work being away from the office, it is inevitable that the demand for wireless data is going to ignite. Already, in those countries that have cellular-data services readily available, the number of cellular subscribers taking advantage of data has reached significant proportions.
There are two basic ways that the cellular industry is currently delivering data services.
One approach is with smart phones, which are cellular phones that include a micro browser. With these, you can view specially formatted Internet information. The other approach is through wireless modems, supplied either in PC Card format or by using a cellular phone with a cable connection to a computer.
All of these services offer speeds in the 9.6 Kbps to 14.4 Kbps range. Why such low speeds? The basic reason is that in today's cellular systems, data is allocated to the same radio bandwidth as a voice call. Since voice encoders (vocoders) in current cellular networks digitize voice in the range of 8 to 13 Kbps, that's about the amount available for data.
3G cellular technologies is a huge technological and market phenomenon. Several high-speed wireless-data solutions are available.
Metricom's Ricochet network is a service restricted to just several cities today, and significant new investment from Paul Allen and MCI WorldCom, combined with a new high-speed service at 128 Kbps, will propel this service to much wider availability in 2000.
The Personal Handyphone System (PHS) deployed widely in Asia is a form of cellular technology limited to pedestrian use. PHS will soon offer 64 Kbps data service. Nextel has also recently unveiled a new data service for its Integrated Dispatch Enhanced Network (IDEN) - based technology. This service uses Mobile IP to provide both WAP service and IP-based packet data at about 20 Kbps. Also, some companies are planning on deploying wireless LAN technology in public places such as airports. GPRS and UMTS are new developments in wireless digital data that carry bit rates of 115 and 2000 Kbps respectively. These developments will offer more options, increase competition, and help drive down prices.
There is no question that a myriad of new applications will be possible with next-generation, wireless-data networks. But keep in mind that these are massively complex networks, and it will take both time and large investments to develop and deploy the technology.
Many of the advantages that these networks will offer are already available using existing data services. Organizations that gain experience with wireless technologies today will be the ones best positioned to take advantage of new networks tomorrow.