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You say you want a REVOLUTION ?

When you consider that Canadians use approximately 10 million wireless devices on a daily basis, it isn't hard to see a kind of "revolution" in the works. How has wireless technology brought us to this point -- and how far can it realistically take us?


February 1, 2001  


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The phenomenal growth of mobile computing devices, combined with the explosion of the Internet and corporate Intranets, has raised the bar for business productivity. As the mobile workforce continues to demand real-time access to shared information, and individuals require information “anytime and anywhere,” the wireless revolution is emerging.

Industry analysts are predicting a surge in the number of wireless data subscribers and service revenues generated over the next several years. And recent studies show that approximately 25 per cent of worldwide wireless subscribers will be data subscribers by the year 2003. That would represent growth of 268 per cent over current levels, when only 11 per cent of the worldwide wireless subscribers are projected to be data subscribers in 2000. 1

Wireless communication continues to be one of Canada’s great success stories, with growth continuing in all sectors of the industry, and over 8 million Canadians now using wireless products and services.

Currently, Canadians are using approximately 10 million wireless devices on a daily basis, including 7 million wireless phones, more that 1.8 million pagers, 1 million mobile radios and 10,000 mobile satellite phones.2

And we have just hit the tip of the iceberg. The ’80s were spent introducing and supplying people “personal” computing; the ’90s were spent educating and giving them access to the Internet; this decade will be about giving them “anywhere, anytime” access to these resources. Wireless communication is creating a fundamental shift to personal, not location-specific, communication.

THE MOVE TO MOBILITY

Each use of wireless technology, while separate, is driving the move to mobility and the new paradigm for business. Significant improvements in wireless technologies have made products much more user-friendly and increased competition has greatly improved the price performance of the wireless industry, making products more accessible to consumers.

The term “wireless” used to only make reference to cell phones, but no longer. Through new technology, wireless is bringing substance to the notion of personal networks. Wireless networking is making a thrust into the home through wireless appliances, and improvements continue in the area of cellular technology and wireless telephones. These types of wireless solutions will be at the forefront this year, providing consumers with better and faster decision flow in organizations, and increased convenience in their personal lives.

Although it will be a while before devices like the wireless-networked-refrigerator or the super-fast-Internet-enabled cell phone hit the mainstream market, wireless start-ups and established companies are working furiously to flesh out standards to speed up their introduction.

Many of the new and forthcoming mobile data services are deployed from networks based on a personal communications service (PCS) technology called Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA). CDMA is a wideband technology that spreads multiple conversations across a wide segment of the broadcast spectrum. Each telephone or data call is assigned a unique code that distinguishes it from all other calls that are simultaneously transmitted over the same broadcast spectrum. As long as the receiving device knows the right code, it can discern its conversation from the others.

CDMA is the basis for the forthcoming worldwide standard for the 153-kilobits per second (Kbps) service that will allow users to roam globally with a single handset. Called CDMA2000, these network services should begin commercial deployment in mid-2001.

WIRELESS LAN DEMAND

To stay competitive, companies must make it easy for employees to share business-critical information and collaborate from anywhere, at any time. Fortunately, being connected to the network no longer means being chained to a desk. With wireless LAN solutions, mobile workers are able to enjoy simple, reliable network access whenever and wherever they need it.

The most critical issue affecting wireless LAN demand has been limited throughput. The data rates supported by the original 802.11 standard are too slow to sustain most general business requirements and have slowed adoption of wireless LANs.

Recognizing the critical need to support higher data-transmission rates, the IEEE recently ratified the 802.11b standard (also known as 802.11 High Rate) for transmissions of up to 11 megabits per second (Mbps). Global regulatory bodies and vendor alliances have endorsed this new high-rate standard, which promises to open new markets for wireless LANs in large enterprise, small office and home environments. With 802.11b, wireless LANs will be able to achieve wireless performance and throughput comparable to wired Ethernet.

Bluetooth, a relatively new wireless technology standard for linking Internet-connected mobile computers, mobile phones, and handheld devices, will see its introduction in numerous wireless products this decade. As consumer networking continues to be a large focus for many telecommunications companies, Bluetooth is ambitious in pushing the envelope to create new wireless home products, including ones that will have your refrigerator talking to your telephone. The wireless revolution will make all of this possible.

Although Bluetooth is in its infancy, it is already bringing reality to solutions that once seemed impossible — such as having your phone, laptop, and handheld device talking seamlessly to one another. Bluetooth won’t set the world on fire in 2001, but the market will see the first wave of Bluetooth products. By year’s end, consumers will see such products as mobile phones and headsets that are linked by Bluetooth and PC cards that put Bluetooth in laptops. Further product releases are promised for next year.

Both 802.11b and Bluetooth are important technologies that will see widespread acceptance and deployment in the next few years. Both of these technologies will be important in the corporate environment, public locations and in the home, as the wireless revolution becomes a reality.

3G COMMUNICATIONS

Looking forward, the next big draw will be for 3G technologies, or third-generation mobile communications, equipped to provide speedier Internet access and better data capabilities than those currently on the market.

3G mobile communication is the next wave of wireless communication, where high-speed mobile access will come together with Internet services to create a new and liberating way to communicate, access information and conduct business. With 3G, people will be able to use portable handheld devices to surf the Internet, shop, bank online, and to exchange email at considerably higher speeds than exist today. Building upon the strength of Canada’s existing wireless networks, 3G technology will enhance our developing world of anytime, anywhere high-speed voice, data and video communications.

With the advent of 3G technologies, the convergence of wireless Internet applications will be accelerated. 3G will also include a global standard, which should allow Canadians to use their phones in most other countries. A global standard should also facilitate the manufacture of wireless infrastructure, phones, and other devices for the global market, making wireless products more affordable.

While the industry is moving toward a standard technology to resolve interoperability issues, barriers still remain. The main obstacle for the development of joint standards for third-generation wireless interfaces has been resolved with the adoption of the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS, also known as wideband CDMA) and CDMA2000, allowing developers of each solution to use the technical information of the others. Yet, it could be years before compatibility barriers are lifted between competing 3G solutions.

GAINING FREEDOM

Wireless systems provide spontaneous connection and interoperation between notebook and desktop PCs, handheld devices, mobile phones, LAN access points, network resources and a host of other devices. The technology gives mobile workers t
he freedom of total mobility and the power of pervasive connectivity; they can enjoy simple, reliable network access when and where they need it.

Wireless means working on your terms, not to the limitations of the technology. Why shouldn’t you be able to work beside your pool in your backyard instead of being stuck in your basement office? While we are in the developmental stages of this technology, the potential is unlimited. There is a growing recognition of the benefits of Universal Connectivity through wireless, and the technologies are stabilizing.

Information technology always becomes more exciting when we are able to make breakthroughs that bring us closer to a “virtual reality.” For example, people in Silicon Valley are using devices attached to their PDAs or workgroups with Wireless LAN capabilities. And data phones with Bluetooth technology will see the potential of more than just toys for stock quotes and sport scores.

Networking technology is beginning to allow us to mimic real life. Users are no longer stuck behind a desk. By releasing us from our tethers, wireless solutions play an important role in creating an ubiquitous communications network that is a part of our business and personal lives.CS

1 (Source: Ovum, “Third Generation Mobile: Market Strategies,” October 1999)

2 (Source: Wireless Telecom)

Rick Gaskin is a Business Networking Specialist for 3Com Canada, Mississauga, ON, where he is responsible for helping small and medium sized businesses leverage technology trends in wireless networking, security and convergence of voice and data. He was recently named to the 3Com President’s Club 2000, which honours a select number of employees for professional excellence.


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