The World Wide Web is coming to a cellular telephone near you. The explosive growth of the Internet and the rapidly increasing number of wireless subscribers is pushing us into the "Fifth Wave" of computing, where mobility will no longer be a limiting factor in accessing networked information.
At present there are more than 70 million subscribers to wireless service in the United States and nearly 300 million world-wide. Predictions suggest that number will double in just two years. As the wireless subscriber base expands and matures, service providers are rolling out new features and services to attract and retain customers.
The next round of product announcements are revolving around the concept of a "Web Phone." No longer limited to simple voice calls, these mobile phones will have the ability to deliver information from the Internet using a "microbrowser."
Surfing the web on a mobile phone will be significantly different than doing so from the office or at home. Relatively slow data rates and small screen size will limit web access to retrieving bits and pieces of information and performing simple transactions. Donít plan on downloading sound files or viewing film clips, but reading news headlines, weather and traffic reports, checking sports scores, stock quotes, airline schedules and bank accounts will all be possible.
It is estimated that more than 10 percent of all phones sold next year will contain a microbrowser, and will outnumber sales of portable computers. These new phones, combined with mobile computing capability, will be marketed as "wireless information devices" or "internet appliances."
Wireless Application Protocol
There are currently a variety of technologies for mobile phones, including Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), Global System for Mobiles (GSM), and IS-136. Each of these technologies has their own set of rules about how information should be communicated between the phone and the ground network. This variety makes it difficult for content developers to create products that will operate correctly on different networks.
To address this problem, in 1997 equipment manufacturers Ericsson, Motorola, and Nokia, and software developer Unwired Planet established the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) forum to define a set of standards for mobile Internet access regardless of the underlying wireless technology.
Mobile phones that are "WAP-enabled" have embedded software to access Internet content. This software runs on top of Internet Protocol (IP) and makes connecting to existing web applications much easier. Since these applications reside on servers, not the handset, so changes and updates can be performed without requiring the user to purchase a new phone.
So far more than 40 network operators and handset manufacturers have licensed Unwired Planet's software, and in all about 100 wireless companies have joined the WAP Forum. Cable News Network is the first commercial service build on WAP, sending breaking news reports to customers through GSM networks.
Recent product announcements from Nokia and Ericsson provide two examples of these "smart phones" that use WAP.
The Nokia 7110 contains a microbrowser, allowing the user to enter keywords into Yahoo, Inc.'s search engine. Web sites of interest can be saved and viewed, in a limited way, on the 96 by 65 pixel display. Some sites may send information directly to the phone, while others will provide menus and selections for the user to scroll through.
The Nokia 7110 is also able to send and receive faxes and electronic mail over the air at 14.4 kbps using existing GSM network services. Infrared and RS-232 connectors allow the phone to share data with laptop computers and other external devices.
Availability is listed as early summer 1999, however it wonít work in the United States. The 7110 is a dual band GSM phone, capable of operating at 900 MHz and 1800 MHz frequencies. No word yet on when a 1900 MHz model might be available for use on United States frequencies.
The Ericsson R380 is a fully-functional GSM phone with a built-in personal digital assistant (PDA). Electronic mail, a WAP browser, calendar, and an alarm clock are all accessible through a touchscreen hidden underneath the fold-out keypad. It even has a speaker phone.
The R380 uses the popular EPOC operating system, designed by Symbian especially for mobile computing environment. Symbian shipped more than half a million copies of EPOC last year, and is touting itself as the standard operating system for mobile devices.
The R380 is scheduled to be available early 2000, but like the Nokia unit it will be a dual-band phone. U.S. users will have to wait for a 1900 MHz model to come out.
If you're not stuck on GSM, Qualcomm has announced their pdQ phone, which is a CDMA phone combined with a 3Com PalmPilot. The device, which looks like a thick, rounded PalmPilot with an antenna and fold-out keypad, runs almost all of the hundreds of existing PalmPilot software programs. It can transfer data up to 14.4 kbps and has a 160 by 240 pixel display. With more than 1.6 million PalmPilots sold in 1998, the computing portion of this phone should be familiar and immediately useful. The pdQ phone is "coming soon," sometime in the first half of 1999, so by the time you read this it should be available for somewhere around $700.
General Packet Radio Service (GPRS)
GSM has more than 135 million users and continues to grow around the world. China, the third largest wireless market, has 26 million GSM subscribers, and may have as many as 40 million by 2005. The United States currently has just over 3 million GSM subscribers.
First generation GSM data connections are limited to a maximum of 9.6 kbps. U.S. GSM carrier Omnipoint recently introduced 14.4 kbps service in Syracuse, New York, but had to upgrade both the network and the subscriber phones to support the higher speed. Other carriers may follow Omnipointís lead if they feel thereís money to be made supporting data services.
The next step forward for GSM operators is the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), which promises data rates up to 115 kbps and easy connectivity to the Internet. Laptops or handheld computers can use existing TCP/IP protocol stacks to connect with GPRS-capable cellphones and modems. Phones with WAP-enabled microbrowsers and dedicated GPRS-capable equipment, such as mobile credit card readers, will use GPRS as a transport mechanism to reach the Internet.
Manufacturers developing GPRS equipment include Alcatel, Ericsson, Lucent, Motorola, Nokia, and Nortel. Testing will get underway this year, with commercial roll-outs in Europe expected next year.
One very practical problem with the proliferation of mobile devices is the inevitable rat's nest of interconnecting cables. Even infrared ports need line-of-sight and a fair amount of user intervention to get things working.
Last year Intel, IBM, Toshiba, Ericsson, and Nokia formed the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) to develop a specification for wireless communication between mobile computing devices. Although it bears an unusual name (Bluetooth was a 10th Century Danish Viking king who unified Denmark), the idea behind Bluetooth is that every device will contain a small, low-power radio module to identify themselves and exchange data with nearby units. With this capability users can create a "personal area network" by wirelessly connecting mobile phones, desktop PCs, hand-held computers, printers, headsets, and other peripherals. A single Bluetooth port could replace multiple I/O ports and eliminate the need for cables and connectors.
To limit interference with established services and avoid regulatory issues, the Bluetooth SIG selected the unlicensed 2.4 GHz Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) frequency band. Bluetooth units will frequency hop in one MHz steps between 2.402 GHz and 2.480 GHz, at rates up to 1600 hops per second. Units will transmit at power levels of about one milliwatt with an estimated range of about 30 feet, although 100 milliwatt amplifiers are a possibility.
Depending on configuration and operating environment, units will be able to communicate with each other at up to 721 kbps. Bluetooth also supports three 64 kbps voice channels using Continuous Variable Slope Delta modulation (CVSD) voice coding.
With one unit acting as a master and controlling traffic, up to eight Bluetooth units can gang together to create a "piconet." As many as 10 piconets can operate in a room without interfering with each other.
Security and authentication are mentioned in the Bluetooth specification, but appear fairly weak. The selected encryption algorithm is not mentioned, and the key sizes will be 64 bits or less. Expect an interesting market in "Bluetooth sniffers" that eavesdrop on piconets, and perhaps rogue Bluetooth units that hijack other people's equipment.
Bluetooth radio modules are expected to start out at around $20 and drop to about $5 as volume production reaches significant levels.
More than 500 companies have joined the Bluetooth SIG, including Compaq, Sony, Sprint PCS, and Hewlett-Packard. Interestingly, BMW of North America and Saab Automobile AB are also members. Chip-manufacturer Intel plans to incorporate this technology into Pentium and StrongARM processors.
Metricom's Ricochet service ( PCS Front Line, August 1997) is upgrading their network to provide 128 kbps access to the Internet. Besides improved modems, Ricochet's pole-top radios will use the 2.4 GHz ISM band to connect subscribers to Wireless Access Points. First generation pole-top radios used a 162 channel frequency-hopping plan in the 902 MHz to 928 MHz band.
Ricochet currently has networks operating in Seattle, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and more than 100 schools and universities. Metricom serves about 27,000 customers, charging $30 per month for unlimited Internet access.
That's all for this month. As always, more information is available on my website at http://www.decode.com, and I welcome electronic mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, happy monitoring.
Click here for the index page.
Click here for the main page.