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Wireless technologies continue to evolve
By Mahesh Rathod

As various wireless technologies continue to evolve around the world, it will be the usefulness of content and applications, interoperable standards, and user acceptance that decide their fate

Have you ever yearned to have access to all kinds of information e-mail, databases, news, stock quotes, and company reports from your car, without a desktop computer? Wireless technology makes this possible. We are already beginning to see such applications. Wireless Technologies are for people who are always on the move and yet want to stay connected. With the Internet being widely accepted by society, access to data sources while on the move is a growing trend. As Anirudh Mathuria, President, India Operations, Celstream Technologies puts it, "The need for geographical freedom prompted the convergence between wireless and computing leading to the emergence of Wireless technologies".

The established wireless technologies include:

802.11: An IEEE wireless standard used to manage packet traffic over a network.

Bluetooth: A short-range wireless specification that allows for radio connections between devices within a 30-foot (10 meter) radius.

TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access): This protocol allows a large number of users to access one radio frequency by allocating time slots for use to multiple voice or data calls.

GPRS (General Packet Radio Service): A technology that sends packets of data across a wireless network at speeds of up to 114Kbps.

I-Mode: A wildly popular service in Japan for transferring packet-based data to handheld devices. I-Mode is based on a compact version of HTML and does not use WAP.

WAP: WAP is a set of protocols that lets users of mobile phones and other digital wireless devices access Internet content, check voice mail and e-mail, and conduct transactions.

Wireless LAN: Uses radio frequency technology to transmit network messages through the air for relatively short distances, like across an office.

3G (third-generation): An industry term used to describe the next, still-to-come generation of wireless applications. The third generation expands the digital premise by bringing high-speed connections and increasing reliability.

Still evolving
Wireless technologies are in the evolving phase worldwide, as issues related to legal and commercial aspects still need to be resolved. "There are various standards that are competing to get their own foothold in the wireless space, hence the real impact will be three to four years down the line when technology matures and standards interoperate", says Anirudh.

2G technology prevails around the world, but now various 2G technologies are attempting to migrate to 3G standards. "3G network trials are currently going on in Japan and high bandwidth data services based on 3G are scheduled for launch by October 2001", informs Subrat Kanungo, Manager Networks and NT strategy, Texas Instruments. He further adds that 3G services in the rest of the globe are currently not commercially deployed since it involves significant cost.

Another hot technology is GPRS, a packet-switched technology, which is in advanced stages of trial and initial deployment in Western Europe.

This technology supports voice services and to some extent very basic data services like WAP and SMS. While SMS has succeeded to a large extent as an application standard, WAP has come in for a beating because of poor performance and low acceptance.

"In India, the GSM-900 technology has been dominant in the cellular network, though operators in Mumbai and Delhi are conducting some trials on GPRS", says Deepak Padaki, Head Mobile Research group, Infosys Technologies. Commenting on wireless in the enterprise, Deepak adds, "The 802.11 standard has received a lot of attention in 2001 and products are now available from several vendors for wireless LANs, though security remains an important issue. On the other hand Bluetooth applications are not yet widely available, though the underlying chipsets, hardware and firmware are finally seeing the light of day".

For a mobile workforce
Wireless can be a "dream come true" for the mobile workforce with high performance connections and complete mobility and flexibility in an organization. At present these users are from the large and small/medium enterprises.

Says Srikanta Prasad, Senior Network Consultant, Enterasys Networks, "As the market for wireless data equipment increases, there will be a reduction in equipment costs and an improvement in wireless products and technologies, thereby making the technology feasible for mass usage and high volume sales". Logically, the wireless applications that will succeed are those that address issues of urgency, personalisation and relevance. Healthcare (doctor services), financial (banking and stock trading), travel and community development (communications) are potential application areas.

Explaining how the healthcare industry could benefit, Anirudh says, "Hospitals see wireless as a necessary technology for mobile doctors, nurses and patients, and as an alternative to the time and trouble it takes to wire hospital wards. As more medical records are stored electronically, it becomes imperative to provide a

pervasive and flexible way to access records. With a laptop and a wireless network card, surgeons and other hospital personnel can now access this information from anywhere".

Explaining the use of wireless LANs in corporations, Jangoo Dalal, VP, Enterprise Sales, Cisco, India, says, "As corporates adapt flexible work-hours and work places, and with the increase in remote working culture wireless might be just the antidote for jaded employees, and cramped workplace possible".

Future Directions
Much development will occur in the wireless technology segment but it will be some time before the end user can feel the impact. SMS on mobile phones is one application that has been accepted. Major developments are expected in the data capability of 3G systems to enable wireless operators to offer rich content like digital photos and MP3 downloads, things that are now possible on a wired network.

Adds Deepak, "Over the next 2-3 years, we will see the growth of wireless data services through 2.5G technologies and the exploration of data applications. Bluetooth and Wireless LAN will become more widely deployed in the home and enterprise markets respectively". For wireless data, organisations today are still pondering the most optimal technologies to deploy and what services or applications they would like to "m-enable". M-Commerce as a paradigm will take a while to kick-in, primarily because of a half-baked business model involving the enterprise, operator, service provider and content provider. Also issues related to legality and technologies are likely to get resolved and hence make way for the acceptance of wireless technology.

Wireless in India
"There is no doubt that India has world-class wireless networks and the other advantage is that the entire country is covered by a single standard, GSM 900, which is not the case in many other big countries worldwide. This offers unique benefits for operators to support countrywide mobility", complements Deepak. The subscriber base for cellular services is growing at a lightning speed, with 90 percent growth recorded last year.

Wireless data services in India will not take off until more relevant content is available. Even the Internet revolution failed to generate sufficient local content in India, and this is important if we want mobile data services to be widespread. With consolidation amongst Indian operators, we hope to see more innovative services being available to Indian subscribers.

Mahesh Rathod can be reached at rathodmp@hotmail.com

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