wireless networks on the leading edge (2+G) provide average speeds of 20-50
kbps (average; max 75-144 kpbs). At present, the number of
mobile data users is more than 120 million in the United States. This number will
continue to grow and will eventually overtake fixed phone use; at present the penetration rate is about 40 percent.
The stimulus for companies to adopt wireless networks is the demand for
remote access to core data maintained on desktop systems, and the demand for
desktop applications in the field. In short, IT strategists want true
web computing and ubiquitous connectivity. Company segments advancing
such demands include sales [sales force automation (SFA)], field platoons [field force management (FFM)], strategic planning [enterprise resource planning (ERP)] and mobile office applications.
Fulfilling these demands with wireless networks reduces the vertical separation
between management levels (in some cases eliminating mid-levels), putting
upper management in touch with all company levels directly. Another
effect is horizontal incorporation of messaging, emails and PIM tools throughout
a company, making them available to all employees in the field, not just
those at the desktop.
Thus IT departments now seek full vertical and horizontal integration via
extensive networks built on combinations of wireless and connected networks.
Careful planning for the installation or upgrade of wireless networks is
obviously of prime importance for maintaining structures and operations at
the cutting edge, which can improve corporate function and profitability
in a highly competitive environment.
Next-generation (3G) wireless data networks will, with few exceptions (e.g.,
Nextel's iDEN -- Integrated Digital Enhanced Network), be built on two competing formats -- GPRS (General Packet
Radio Service) or CDMA protocols. Transfer speeds are rising, and prices
The two networks have different protocols and hardware, meaning users must
choose one or the other. Companies are rolling out limited service
capability in late 2003. The older CDPD network is being maintained
for the present by Verizon, but phased out by AT&T Wireless.
Top mobile communications companies using GPRS include AT&T Wireless,
T-Mobile USA, and Cingular. Those using CDMA include Sprint PCS and
Verizon Wireless. Nextel has not yet announced any decision about its
existing iDEN network, which still is attractive for being an always-on,
digital, all-packet, nationwide network. Platforms are based on Microsoft,
PalmSource, and Symbian. Nokia provides a variety of CDMA handsets,
along with Motorola PCS, Samsung, LG (Korea), Sony-Ericsson, and Sierra Wireless.
Cellphones and networks originally built for voice are increasingly used
for data. New and transformed networks for the new generation (2.5G
and 3G) are based on GSM-GPRS or CDMA (1xRTT and other modes) technology.
Wi-fi (802.11) LAN technology, that provides cyber-orbit speeds up to 54 Mbps,
was earlier seen as a competitor, but is now being merged and viewed as a
complement. Bluetooth (for printing, headsets and multimedia) is another
popular technology waiting to be integrated.
The need is to modify networks so that where Wi-fi hotspots are available
they are utilized, and elsewhere the lower speed GPRS or CDMA technology is
exploited. Ultimately the user wants the best of both worlds -- Wi-fi
(802.11) LAN networks that are interfunctional with WANs and cell networks.
For the network providers, the strategy making this possible is called embrace
Semiconductor companies are working to produce chipsets that do it all.
The company to beat is Texas Instruments, which is advancing its WANDA prototype
device, "Wireless Any Network Digital Assistant." In design it integrates
wireless LAN, Bluetooth, and GMS-GPRS.
Once handoff issues between networks are settled, which may take some time,
popularity of WANDA-like devices should take off like a rocket. Consumers
will have internet access anywhere, with photo-emails and homestyle computing
in their pockets. Corporate employees and small business staff will
be free to discard a lot of the traditional distinction between field and
Satisfaction will depend on smooth operational functionality and high speed,
as well as reasonable price. This next generation (3G) should meet
the FCC definition --
· 144 kbps or higher, in high mobility (vehicular) traffic.
· 384 kbps for pedestrian traffic.
· 2 Mbps or higher for indoor traffic.
standard suggests that the office will always be there, but the high speeds
in the field mean that workers will stay away from the office more and more.
For the moment, however, users must make choices among less satisfactory
alternatives. Use of 3G networks means buying perhaps hundreds of new
devices or new network cards. Coverage maps are still spotty -- therefore,
users must plan for offline function. Also, limited IP addresses require
dynamic addressing, while some users (main governmental, security, and health
users) require static addresses. Additional issues for the user to
consider include data security, network interoperability, and network performance
Improvements in each area of concern are being achieved by intense effort in the wireless industry. Nevertheless,
users must pay careful attention to current developments, and carefully match
needs with available systems, to be satisfied in both cost and performance.