[NY Times] Heading North to the Wireless Future

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From: Linda (joelinda1@home.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 lewis@nytimes.com welcomes your comments and

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