Wireless Data Moves Up A Gear
By Tammy Parker
With cdmaOne technology speeding towards ever higher data transmission capabilities, operators are seeking to establish third generation network standards and to develop high-function hardware devices for sophisticated consumers. Tammy Parker
A combination of market drivers and technological advances is taking wireless data communications out of the Dark Ages of smoke-and-mirrors demonstrations into a more user-friendly environment.
In this environment, wireless subscribers will be able to get the network speeds they need, the devices they prefer and the applications they seek. And the cdmaOne community is poised to exploit these developments as it advances numerous high-speed data initiatives on the way to the next generation of wireless.
"Back in the early '90s, everybody was talking wireless data," recalls Perry LaForge, executive director of the CDMA Development Group. However, that talk didn't translate into mainstream success.
Despite these early setbacks, LaForge feels that wireless data offerings are now evolving to suit the horizontal market-that is, consumers-due to the simple fact that the Internet is becoming an everyday tool and users are demanding data mobility.
Wireless carriers have already notched up nine million data
users worldwide, according to Sam Samra, CDG senior director
of technology programs. Samra quotes studies showing that
wireless data currently represents 10 per cent of all airtime.
While success has been concentrated in vertical markets such
as public safety, healthcare and transportation, he agrees
with LaForge that the horizontal market for wireless data
is growing. For instance, he notes, some 17 million people
are expected to use wireless e-mail by 2002.
In fact, various studies have uncovered a high correlation
between Internet and wireless phone use. Analysts have reported
that more than three-quarters of Internet users are also wireless
users and that a mobile subscriber is four times more likely
than a non-subscriber to use the Internet. Naturally, such
keen interest in both industries is prompting user demand
for converged services. And with more than half a billion
Internet users expected by 2005, the potential market for
Internet-related wireless data services is massive.
"CDMA has made its mark in the evolution of second generation systems, and CDMA clearly will play a role in third generation systems," notes Bob Egan, research director with the Gartner Group. He adds, however, "with size comes responsibility", as cdmaOne supporters seek to create a thriving wireless data environment based on an evolutionary approach, with backward compatibility that preserves cdmaOne investments worldwide.
Of course, the CDG is quite active in arguing for a third generation standard that will converge the European Telecommunications Standards Institute's Wideband CDMA with the cdmaOne 3G solution, known as CDMA2000. A converged standard would encourage global economies of scale while helping incumbent operators leverage their existing investments. According to Anil Kripalani, Qualcomm's vice president of global standards planning, harmonization does not mean "our way or no way". The idea behind convergence is to take the best of the different CDMA standards and make one technically superior standard.
Even if a harmonized 3G standard is not settled upon, the cdmaOne community is moving ahead on big plans for a data-centric future. Farrill, who is also past president of the CDG, says the group is advancing five sets of data-enabled service offerings:
As part of that development effort, the cdmaOne community is teaming up with information technology companies. "We have learned how much the computer community wants to cut the cord," says Farrill. The CDG, he says, has had "more meetings in the last year than ever before in its history" with Internet service providers and computing hardware and software vendors.
Farrill notes that AirTouch has also been working with numerous
vendors on a variety of wireless data trials. The operator
hopes to learn more about the data-access devices preferred
by wireless users; the types of information users most often
retrieve from the Internet; suitable system architectures
in terms of servers and routers; and the real-world capabilities
of wireless data networks. Farrill says trials show that today's
cdmaOne circuit-switched wireless information services work
well and are accepted by users.
Operators climbing the cdmaOne standards ladder to reach
higher-speed data access have a number of choices to make,
which parallel similar decisions being made by operators using
other air interface technologies. Wireless operators can step
on every rung by implementing each new data technology iteration.
Or they can skip a rung or more, which might save them the
cost of implementing multiple sequential standards but can
also put carriers at risk of losing data market share while
they wait for the subsequent generation to be ready for deployment.
Fortunately, CDMA2000 technology has been designed such that
second and third generation standards and services can exist
in the same spectrum, allowing a cdmaOne operator ultimate
flexibility in high-speed data deployment.
The next rung on the cdmaOne evolutionary ladder takes a
carrier to IS-95B, which delivers packet data at a sustained
bit rate of 64 kbps. Samra says that IS-95B requires software
and hardware changes to mobiles as well as software infrastructure
changes. He adds that IS-95B product should enter the marketplace
in the first quarter of 1999.
Lucent Technologies is among those vendors working on CDMA2000
high-speed data services via a 5MHz multi-carrier scheme.
Bell Atlantic Mobile has already committed to phased introduction
and testing of CDMA2000 services in 1999 using enhancements
to its networks, which primarily operate over Lucent equipment.
BAM has noted that because CDMA2000 is an evolutionary upgrade
to existing technology, its customers will not need to surrender
their current cdmaOne handsets when CDMA2000 services become
available over the Lucent infrastructure. "Following
an extensive testing program involving the two companies,
including Bell Laboratories developers, the technology enhancement
will be performed with minimal upgrades to the Lucent-supplied
base stations," says the company.
In the meantime, cdmaOne carriers also have a number of other data-enhancement options from which to choose. A fast wireless Internet access technology, Quick Net Connect, is already catching fire in the cdmaOne community. The technology was jointly developed by Qualcomm, 3Com and Unwired Planet and is implemented using the circuit-data standard. Designed for mobile-originated calls, QNC bypasses the public switched telephone network to link directly with packet data networks, thus saving on modem training time at call set-up and eliminating the need for modem pools. "Flavors of this are appearing in standards under development," says Samra. "One way or another, QNC will become a standard."
Another technology, Qualcomm's HDR (for high data rate), offers fast data over a dedicated 1.25 MHz channel that is not shared with voice traffic. According to Michelle French, manager of marketing communications for the company's Wireless Infrastructure Division: "Qualcomm wants HDR standardized. It's proprietary today, but that doesn't mean it will stay so." HDR will require access by HDR-compatible handsets. French says Qualcomm is developing ASICs for HDR-friendly handsets and base stations, with commercial ASIC production slated for the end of 1999 or beginning of 2000.
Furthermore, the CDG is working on designs for Mobile IP, an IP enhancement being specified by the Internet Engineering Task Force that could be tied into 1xRTT implementations. Samra says Mobile IP should be ready by early 1999. A primary benefit of Mobile IP is that it maintains data sessions through hand-offs by letting access devices roam while maintaining the same IP address. This is essential because packets of Internet information are delivered to specific IP addresses. Without Mobile IP, a mobile host gets a new IP address at each point of network attachment and data delivery cannot continue.
Mobile IP is based on the concept of a 'home agent', which tracks a mobile host's location and is affiliated with a static IP address on the home network, and a 'foreign agent', which supports mobility on a foreign network by providing routing to a visiting mobile host. Networks supporting Mobile IP will have to create foreign agents to deliver packets of information to the mobile host.
"Mobile IP is a fundamental enabler for the paradigm that says the successful model for wireless data is to take the connection you have into your corporate intranet and make it wireless," says Thomas Mitoraj, senior manager of product management and strategic planning at Motorola's Cellular Infrastructure Group. Mobile IP, adds Samra, "fits the mobile environment like a glove".
While cdmaOne network standards are moving quickly up the evolutionary data path, terminal vendors are trying to develop complementary end-user devices. One example is Qualcomm's pdQ smart phone, which combines a cdmaOne handset with a PalmPilot-type organizer. Commercial availability is slated for the first half of 1999. Because the pdQ is based on the popular Palm Computing platform, more than 1,000 productivity applications are immediately available to the device's users, including those enabling data synchronization between the pdQ and a personal computer.
Qualcomm will also release a software developers' kit for third-party development of applications. The pdQ itself includes three new Qualcomm-created applications for SMS alert management, e-mail and Web browsing.
Qualcomm is now going a step further by planning a Microsoft Windows CE-based smart phone. The company has also joined with Microsoft to create WirelessKnowledge, which will let carriers offer wireless data services on an OEM basis via the WirelessKnowledge network operations center.
The varied efforts by cdmaOne players show just how vibrant the non-voice market is becoming. A host of challenges remain, however, due in part to the fact that operators and vendors are faced with numerous decisions, both short- and long-term. Sprint's Paglusch notes that operators will choose different service deployment strategies, and infrastructure design must support all of them. Further, he adds, infrastructure vendors will have to accommodate targeted geographic deployments as well as complete network overlays. One critical issue is that handset requirements will have to be transparent to customers, points out Paglusch.
Yet because the evolutionary path of cdmaOne to CDMA2000
allows both groups of standards to co-exist on the same network
in the same spectrum, carriers should be able to make incremental
implementations of new technology as needed. Such flexibility
can help new and incumbent cdmaOne carriers future-proof their
networks as the data market gradually fulfils its long-held