From: Linda (email@example.com)
Date: Sun Jun 04 2000 - 20:02:33 PDT
June 1, 2000
STATE OF THE ART
Heading North to the Wireless Future
By PETER H. LEWIS
TOCKHOLM, May 31 -- The Big Bang of telecommunications is now
on the horizon, the long-awaited moment when a third generation of Internet-based
mobile phone applications and services will sweep across the world. It will change
personal communications in a more profound way than the arrival of the
personal computer changed computing two decades ago.
At least that is what they say at Nokia in
Finland and at Ericsson in Sweden, two of the largest makers of wireless
telecommunications equipment in the world. But the third-generation
phones they are talking about, so-called 3G phones, are still several
years away for most of the world, according to research scientists and
wireless services developers here and in Helsinki.
The first-generation analog phones are still in widespread use, after all,
especially in the United States, and second-generation digital phones are
still gaining in popularity.
When the 3G mobile Internet devices do arrive, they may not even be
recognizable as phones, because voice conversations will be just one of
their many capabilities. In fact, the researchers here do not even call them
phones, preferring instead to call them mobile communicators or mobile
terminals. Eventually they will replace cell phones, the researchers say,
allowing people to tap into a seemingly endless array of personal
services, at any time, anywhere.
But there are daunting technical, commercial and regulatory issues to
resolve before the Big Bang is reality. Consumers, especially in the
United States, will have to wait through a succession of interim steps --
requiring a change of phones at each step, of course -- and wade through
a morass of confusing terms and services to get from 2G to 3G.
There is a seemingly insatiable demand for new mobile Internet services
here in Scandinavia, where most people over the age of 15 carry wireless
phones, and in Japan, where more than 20,000 people a day are signing
up for Internet access through their phones. The new 3G services will roll
out first in these areas, where the "wireless lifestyle" is already well
established. In the United States, where the Internet is closely associated
with the personal computer and where mobile standards are fragmented,
the wireless future is still slightly out of focus. But, the researchers here
point out, the early years of personal computing were also confusing and
frustrating, yet today the Internet and e-mail have become indispensable
to tens of millions of people.
The key to 3G is speed, the ability to transmit and receive digital data at
rates of about two million bits per second, more than 35 times faster than
today's fastest dial-up personal computer modems and more than 200
times the speed of most current handheld wireless data devices.
At 3G speeds, a pocket-size communicator could zoom beyond simple
voice calls and messaging to include mobile video conferencing, the
routine use of video postcards, the delivery of CD-quality music, the
storage and retrieval of personal information, as well as potentially
endless variations on mobile electronic commerce, or m-commerce.
"Just as we did not foresee the development of e-mail, the World Wide
Web or other popular services when the PC was first introduced, we do
not know what services will eventually emerge for 3G," said Yrjo Neuvo,
executive vice president and chief technology officer at Nokia's mobile
phones division in Helsinki. "But we do know that they will come faster"
than they did for the PC, he said.
Shown in nonworking prototype form at Nokia's research center in
Helsinki, the 3G phones are small enough to slip in a pocket. They will be
held not up against the ear as today's cell phones are, but in the hand and
operated either by tapping on the touch-sensitive screen or by voice
The screen will display icons that represent a calendar, an address book,
stored files and other information familiar to people who today carry a
handheld computer like a Palm or Pocket PC device.
The phones will allow high-speed perusing of the Web, with pages
modified to be displayed on a small color screen -- Web Lite, as some
people here call it.
They will also enable instant access to news, impulse ordering of goods
and services, personal banking and stock trading, multiplayer games and
the ability to send and receive multimedia messages easily with people all
over the world.
Unlike today's crazy quilt of incompatible wireless standards, which
prevent most American cell phones from working elsewhere in the world
and even in different parts of the United States, the goal of 3G
developers is a single, unified global standard, known as the Universal
Mobile Telephone System, or U.M.T.S.
A handful of licenses for providing 3G services have already been
granted in Japan and Europe, for astonishing amounts of money. "This is
the second coming for the telecom companies," said Zaheed Hague, chief
executive of Room33.com, a wireless application developer here. "They
missed the Internet, and this time they don't want to miss out."
Like hundreds of companies in Scandinavia, Room33 is focusing on an
interim technology called Wireless Application Protocol, or WAP, an
evolving international standard for delivering Internet data services and
advanced telephony to WAP-enabled phones, pagers, handheld
computers and other wireless devices.
The first WAP-enabled phones are just beginning to show up in the
United States, after a slow start in Europe. Motorola, the largest
American maker of cellular phones, said all of its new phones will be
WAP-capable by the end of the year.
A somewhat similar but incompatible service called i-Mode is wildly
popular in Japan, attracting more than 7 million users in 15 months.
Encouraged by such enthusiasm, hundreds of companies here are
developing WAP applications for everything from banking and stock
trading to ticketing services, control of industrial robots, Internet search
engines and entertainment.
For example, Codeonline, a start-up company in Espoo, Finland, is
preparing to introduce a mobile entertainment application that will let
people play trivia games on their WAP phones. PicoFun, a
Stockholm-based start-up, has a WAP-based game that lets phone users
compete in fantasy soccer leagues.
The idea of playing games on a phone may be curious to Americans,
where cell phones are still relatively rare compared with Finland. But at
Nokia, down the road in Espoo, executives proclaim with almost
religious fervor that more people worldwide will be reaching the Internet
through wireless devices by 2003 than through personal computers. That
is already the case in Japan.
Americans accustomed to browsing the Web on a big color computer
screen over a high-speed link will find the WAP browser to be
agonizingly slow and spare, with a clumsy, thumb-controlled user
interface and a display that is suitable for only a few lines of text and
perhaps a small crude graphic.
The key to WAP, however, is the development of services that are
exclusively for mobile users who need snippets of information or who
want to make simple transactions or requests from a mobile handset.
Making a credit card payment or booking a train ticket from a WAP
screen, for example, does not require a fancy graphical interface.
Early WAP users in Europe have complained that their wireless phone
bills leap when they use the system, because it takes extra time to
connect to the Internet and navigate through a WAP service.
WAP will really take off, the developers say, when phones make the
transition from today's circuit-switched system, in which the user has to
dial into an Internet service, to a packet-based system that is always
connected to the Internet.
In a circuit-switched system, like the one used for most phone calls
today, a private line is established between the caller and the recipient,
and it remains open until the phone is hung up. It is like having a road
reserved just for your car as you drive to the store and back. The user is
typically billed for the length of time the private circuit is being used.
In a packet-based system, which is the basis of the Internet, voice and
data traffic is broken into chunks of digital bits, or packets, that travel
over a shared common network by taking the most efficient -- and thus
least costly -- route. Using the car analogy, any number of cars can share
your lane, yet you arrive at your destination just the same. The roads are
always open, whether you are driving or not.
In a packet-based wireless system,the user would pay either according
to the volume of bits that are sent and received or on a subscription basis
for a fixed monthly fee. The pricing models are still being decided.
"The shift from circuit to packet systems is far more significant to
consumers than was the shift from analog to digital," said Bjorn Norhammar,
manager of market development for 3G communicators at Ericsson.
This transition to packet-based services is expected to begin later this
year in Europe, through a technology called General Packet Radio
System. Based on 2G networks, G.P.R.S. is often called "two and a half
G," signaling its status as a step between 2G and true 3G networks.
Although it is technically feasible that G.P.R.S. systems will have a
connection speed of up to 170 kilobits (thousands of bits) per second,
Nokia says the first packet-radio systems will have a maximum rate of 26
or 39 kbps. Still, that is faster than 2G phones, which are generally 9.6
A variant of the packet-based system called Cellular Digital Packet Data,
or C.D.P.D., is being introduced in the United States by AT&T Wireless
Services, under the Digital Pocket Net brand name. Users of the Pocket
Net service have free, unlimited access to about 40 Web sites for tasks
like finding directions, shopping for books and CD's, trading stocks,
making flight reservations and checking news headlines. But the Pocket
Net system has a speed limit of about 19 kbps and is seen as a transition
step toward G.P.R.S., now primarily limited to phones based on
European and Asian standards.
One of the more intriguing features of 3G communicators will be locality,
that is, the ability of the network to "know" where the user is whenever
the phone is on. Location-based services are being developed here, for
example, to notify a subscriber to an online dating service whenever
another subscriber who matches a certain profile is nearby.
Or a subscriber could sign up for a service that would let shops or
restaurants beam the digital equivalent of discount coupons to the mobile
device whenever the 3G customer is in the area. In another example, a
3G device installed in a car would allowthe police to track it down if the
car was stolen. Obviously, many privacy issues remain to be resolved.
Although 3G communicators are still years away, researchers here are
hard at work on 4G, which promises data rates of 100 megabits per
second -- sufficient for video teleconferencing -- and wireless networking
with televisions, garage door openers and other devices using a
technology called Bluetooth.
But when Nokia officials were setting up a computer presentation on
Bluetooth and other future mobile technologies, they still had to fumble
with cables and wait for Windows to boot up.
"If our phones took as long to turn on as Windows," Martin Sandelin, a
senior vice president at Nokia, said with a sigh, "we wouldn't make as
many phone calls."
State of the Art is published on Thursdays. Click here for a list of
links to other columns in the series.
Peter H. Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org welcomes your comments and
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