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New Directions for Data

By Tammy Parker

Data is the word as cdmaOne operators eye a host of new network capabilities enabling them to offer new value-added services that can exploit present and future generations of technology.

Though wireless data has not yet produced a huge market, it could become a prime differentiator as operators run out of cost-effective ways to compete on price, coverage and packages for voice airtime. With the Internet and corporate intranets becoming more essential to daily business activities, the rush is on to create the wireless office that can easily tie mobile workers to the enterprise. Further, the potential for push technologies that deliver news and other information directly to a wireless device could create entirely new revenue streams for operators.

Clint McClellan, director of strategic marketing for Qualcomm Inc., notes that mobile professionals have been, and will continue being, the first adopters of mobile technology such as cellular phones, pagers and laptops. And since 42 per cent of mobile professionals already carry cellular phones, McClellan notes, those devices are uniquely positioned to integrate the incoming generation of mobile data applications.

Although cdmaOne started offering short messaging service and asynchronous data later than GSM networks, the two technologies are on the same timeline when it comes to high-speed data and packet data development, says Jay Jayapalan, principal staff engineer at Motorola Inc.’s Cellular Infrastructure Group.

Those faster speeds could be crucial to luring data users. "Data is important to our customers, the operators, from a marketing perspective. But today the amount of data being sold on any network is relatively small," says Peter MacLaren, Nortel’s vice president of business development. While MacLaren sees numerous areas for improvement in the data arena — such as filling the need for more data-friendly devices and applications — he notes: "The availability of higher data rates will, we believe, stimulate the market."

Although cdmaOne networks were not the first to offer data access, supporters say such networks are uniquely designed to accommodate data. To start with, the networks handle data and voice transmissions in much the same way. Further, cdmaOne’s inherent variable rate transmission capability allows data rate determination to accommodate the amount of information being sent, so system resources are engaged only as needed. And since cdmaOne systems employ a packetized backbone for voice, packet data capabilities are already inherent in the equipment.

Circuit-switched data capability to 14.4 kilobits per second is the first data communications technology available over cdmaOne, but considerable work has been done on enabling packet data capability at 14.4 kbps as well. The cdmaOne packet data transmission technology uses a TCP/ IP-compliant Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD) protocol stack to enable seamless connectivity with enterprise networks and expedite third-party application development.

Data-friendly revision

The initial data-friendly revision to the cdmaOne protocol falls under the TIA/EIA-95-A standard, commonly called IS-95A. This revision provides for basic voice and low-rate data services such as 14.4 kbps data.
Robert Sellinger, director of wireless architecture and performance characterization at Lucent Technologies Inc., notes that adding such data capabilities to cdmaOne networks is fairly cost-effective. To implement a CDPD overlay network, the equipment costs run around $75,000-$100,000 per base station plus the cost of CDPD-compatible terminals. "I think a distinguishing trait of IS-95 (data) is that it's not an overlay," he explains. Adding data to a cdmaOne network allows an operator to continue using its existing radios, backhaul facilities, infrastructure and handsets while merely implementing a software upgrade with an internet working function. The per-base station tally is less than $10,000, according to Sellinger.

The next step is IS-95B, which has not yet been published because it is still in ballot resolution within the U.S. Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). However, some vendors are hoping to offer Revision B capabilities in early to mid 1999. This upgrade allows for code or channel aggregation to provide data rates of 64-115 kbps, as well as offering improvements in soft hand-offs and inter-frequency hard hand-offs.

To achieve 115 kbps speed, up to eight CDMA traffic channels offering 14.4 kbps would need to be aggregated. Qualcomm has noted that it expects operators will initially support data rates between 28.8 kbps and 57.6 kbps on the forward link to the mobile and 14.4 kbps from the mobile since mobile users generally receive more data than they send over the air. Looking further ahead, IS-95C should double the capacity of Revision A as well as providing a basic data rate of 24.4 kbps data.

For its part, Qualcomm also is backing another proposed enhancement, IS-95HDR, which it says will provide ultra-fast data of more than one Megabit per second using a dedicated data channel and separate base stations. "This steps someone right up to 3G (third generation) speed," notes Qualcomm’s McClellan. However, representatives from other vendors report little support across the industry for IS-95 HDR.

Dedicated initiative

Nonetheless, Qualcomm has a dedicated initiative to push the wireless data revolution. Calling its program "The Quickest Way to Data", the vendor is pledging data-enabled handsets, infrastructure and value-added application services. Qualcomm has announced IS-707 packet data, circuit-switched data and digital fax capabilities on its cdmaOne infrastructure equipment. Operators in Chile, India, Russia and Ukraine are installing Qualcomm CDMA equipment with circuit-switched data and digital fax capabilities, the company notes.

Qualcomm also is adding Mobile IP, the proposed Internet standard for mobility, later this year as an enhancement to basic packet data services. Mobile IP lets users maintain a continuous data connection and retain a single IP address while traveling between BSCs or roaming on other CDMA networks. Mobile IP is implemented in Cisco Systems Inc.’s Inter-network Operating System software, which is integrated in Qualcomm’s QCore BSC.

Other vendors are being more wary. "Mobile IP is a promising proposed standard, but it's not yet well accepted in the industry," says Lucent’s Sellinger. "We will add it as applications take advantage of it."
IS-95A is available over Lucent Technologies Inc.’s infrastructure today, and several carriers are in a "first office" testing mode of the data capabilities, says Sellinger. ‘First office’ refers to the fact that this is an initial deployment of a major new technology, done in close partnership with a customer. "This is typically the last step that we go through before something becomes available to all of our customers," he notes.

Lucent is pushing its modular Flexent architecture as a way to let operators partition physical elements like base stations to support network-defined user groups for specialized calling services. As such, an operator could supply data capabilities in one part of a city but not in others, notes Sellinger. Flexent, he says, provides a platform for voice and data services, both fixed and mobile, allowing carriers to "minimize the risk associated with any one of those applications while they deploy all of those services or have the option of deploying all those services over a common infrastructure".

Other carriers are also on the data bandwagon. Nortel launched its cdmaOne networks with IS-95A capability, notes Doug McGregor, Nortel director for CDMA product line management. He says circuit-switched data is being delivered now with some packet capability and further packet data capability will be delivered next year.

Motorola also is commercially offering equipment supporting IS-95A. "In terms of commercial deployment, we’re working with some major carriers who plan to first trial the service on their networks then make their decisions about launching it commercially," states John Butler, senior product marketing manager for data products within Motorola CIG. The operators involved are located in the United States and Asia.

Motorola is working with unnamed operators on adding higher-speed data applications as well, according to Butler. "Once you have data," he observes, "the next thing people want is higher-speed data."

Some carriers are being more vociferous about their intentions. In February 1998, California-based AirTouch Communications Inc. announced it would begin testing cdmaOne data technologies and evaluate data-capable phones, information appliances and applications.

The tests began with a validation of a fast wireless Internet access technology, Quick Net Connect, that was jointly developed for use with 14.4 kbps connections by Qualcomm and 3Com and delivered by Lucent's cdmaOne infrastructure. QNC uses the IS-99 standard to bring up packet data calls.

Lab testing

AirTouch has been using a variety of subscriber products, including phones and palmtop devices, in lab testing, says spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg. "We’ll probably start field tests toward the late summer, early fall," she adds.
But the operator is cautious about setting a deadline for commercial introduction. "We want to make sure that when we introduce some sort of new product or service that there’s going to be sufficient demand and we can justify the expense," Rosenberg says. However, she adds that AirTouch expects demand for wireless data to accelerate over the next year or two, pending the introduction of less expensive data-enabled phones that can access e-mail and the Internet.

Halfway around the world, South Korean PCS operator LG Telecom has deployed what it says is the industry’s first CDMA-based wireless data service. The service uses the 14.4 kbps data capabilities of infrastructure provided by LG Information and Communications combined with compatible phones that are also from LG. The company had hoped to offer packet data capabilities — including Mobile IP and even Cellular Digital Packet Data — but Youn-Kwan Kim, LG Telecom’s executive director, says the operator was not convinced that packet technologies were ready for market.

Special software
LG Telecom, which counted one million subscribers at the end of April 1998, hopes to provide packet data service late this year using proprietary protocols and special software, Youn-Kwan Kim notes. "Once Mobile IP settles down, we’ll go ahead with Mobile IP."

The data capabilities being added to cdmaOne positions should allow today’s operators to offer many of the high-speed data rates and advanced applications being associated with third generation wireless networks. As such, cdmaOne operators will be able to evolve toward 3G status while preserving their investment in existing infrastructure. The inherent 1.25 MHz bandwidth of cdmaOne and upcoming standard revisions that will allow channel aggregation could be leveraged by second generation operators for competitive parity in the 3G arena, which is assuming a de facto bandwidth of five MHz for many data applications. Operators might also play off of planned cdmaOne updates that will allow for simultaneous transmissions of voice and data, and the ability to mix and match voice, data and video within a single call.

LG Telecom, like other carriers across the globe, is closely watching the transition to third generation. Kim notes that groups working on the Wideband-CDMA and Wideband-cdmaOne standards in South Korea include all of the country’s wireless manufacturers and operators as members. "It’s a silly thing to have very similar technologies but different standards and a war between the two sides," Kim says. "So we are working very hard in the U.S. and Korea to persuade all parties to agree on harmonization so we can have one single air interface."

Prototype

Meanwhile, the largest cdmaOne-based PCS operator, Sprint PCS, is planning to test a prototype 3G network by 2000. The operator is working with Lucent, Motorola and Nortel on the endeavor and says it might offer 3G services by 2002.

"We look to Sprint as one of those very prominent cdmaOne carriers who will help guide the industry into the finalizing of the IS-95B standard and whom we will work with in not only deploying that core technology but in constructing the applications to use it and understanding the business dynamics associated with those services," notes Sellinger. While Sprint has been "very vocal" in announcing its interest in 3G, as well, Sellinger notes that many other cdmaOne carriers have contacted vendors regarding development of faster data speeds and 3G services.

And certainly it’s that cooperation between manufacturers and carriers that will be key to finally bringing a healthy wireless data market to fruition.

The WAP way ahead

Many cdmaOne vendors are involved with the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) Forum, which has published a global protocol specification for providing data over wireless networks. The WAP specification is designed to work across air interface technology types, including cdmaOne, GSM, U.S.-TDMA, DECT, PDC and PHS.

The forum "has achieved a fair amount of buy-in from across the industry as a way of bringing some standardization to delivering message-type information to wireless handsets," notes Peter MacLaren, Nortel business development manager.

WAP was developed "to try and address the issue of multiple disparate pipes in the wireless world today" by providing a common data applications platform, states Jonathan Ruff, senior manager of business development with Motorola’s Platform Software Division.

He notes another reason for the interest in WAP is that even if advanced 2G and 3G networks are capable of offering higher bandwidth applications, many of today’s subscriber device issues will still not be resolved. End-users will continue to demand "a wearable device that’s got a relatively small screen", says Ruff. "It’s not necessarily going to have a QWERTY keyboard. It’s not got a nice 12-inch color screen like a laptop," he notes. According to Ruff, compared with a desktop or laptop personal computer, a hand-held mobile PC is a low-capability device that demands the special protocols offered within WAP.

Adds MacLaren, WAP’s primary intent is to address the small form factor of portable terminals as opposed to providing an interface to the laptop.
WAP also allows companies to build an architecture similar to that of the Internet, which provided a common platform that could be leveraged for a host of unexpected applications, Ruff says. "If I deliver that type of environment to a hand-held device, people will think of all sorts of neat new applications to put on top of that, albeit within the constraints of the capabilities of the device." WAP will not be the only solution for better enabling data delivery over wireless, says MacLaren, "but I think it’s an excellent start."