By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless
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Ovum on Cellular Data Trends
In our April 28th issue, we noted the slow delivery of data services by U.S. cellular carriers. Recently, I talked with two analysts, Michael Doherty and Martin Garner, at Ovum, a U.K. telecommunications consultancy, who have followed cellular data services for several years in both the U.S. and Europe, where cellular technology is typically more advanced. Doherty is based in the U.S., Garner in the U.K. Excerpts from our conversation:
"Carriers in the U.S. are largely focused on the enterprise. We're seeing the start of packages around connectivity. For example, we're seeing Nextel and Verizon Wireless looking at specific data services," says Doherty. "We're seeing the carriers dig their toes in the pond to construct the services to the enterprise. What I haven't seen is any momentum from the carriers to implementing private wireless LANs, except for inklings from Nextel. All the development has been on wireless hot spots." Notes Garner, "European carriers are much more focused on data services. They do have issues on costs, reliability, and security. We're seeing pockets of experimentation."
Today, "much of the focus is on industry education rather than customers demanding to use a hot technology," notes Doherty. A sign of that is the more aggressive adoption of data services over pager networks, primarily from Research in Motion's BlackBerry service, as opposed to cellular data offerings. "It's true in the past two years that Mobitex [a major provider of paging services to RIM] has had its best years ever," says Garner.
Why the slow uptake by the cellular carriers? "The management of each carrier has limited bandwidth, and they are already worried about GPRS, CDMA2000 1XRTT, EDGE, and wireless LANs," says Garner. (The first three are faster versions of cellular technology, called third-generation or 3G, that both pack more voice calls into a given frequency and also send data as packets, making it more compatible with standard networks.) "It's going to be hard for them to have the capacity to take on TDD as well." (TDD is the data-optimized 3G technology that would provide relatively high-speed cellular data services, as opposed to the current modem-like offerings. IPWireless is one company trying to get carriers to adopt its TDD technology.) "We're fairly skeptical about their ability to take this to a wide arena. Voice is very interesting to carriers, and that's the biggest benefit for consumers" from 3G technology, he says.
Another issue is wireless middleware for cellular services. "Wireless middleware will come to prominence with the carriers when they need to support multiple applications," Garner says. Until then, middleware will continue to be carrier-specific and ad-hoc. That will hinder enterprise deployment, since "for enterprises to get their mobile systems working properly, they're going to need some sort of middleware," he notes. So far, enterprise middleware is either specific to an application development platform or to an application, making it complex to introduce multiple applications for wireless access by mobile users.Got deployment experience and lessons to share? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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WIRELESS PRODUCT AND SERVICE GUIDE!
The IEEE has approved the 802.11g standard for 54Mbps-maximum-throughput wireless data services. The standard uses the same spectrum as the widely deployed 802.11b standard, and is backward-compatible with 802.11b equipment. Although many vendors began shipping draft-specification products in March, those early products may not conform to the final draft. Linksys says it will soon release new drivers and firmware to update its draft-version products, while SMC Networks says all its draft-specification products conform to the final standard.
SBC Communications, which runs telephone companies throughout much of the U.S., is now offering 802.11-based telephony and data systems for schools and hospitals. The carrier says its implementation lets users easily move about non-wired areas, while still remaining seamlessly connected to their voice and data network, the Internet, and the public telecommunications network through wireless connection points. Hospitals and colleges have increasingly been exploring Voice over Wireless IP (VoWIP) technology to let their mobile staff communicate more easily throughout their campuses, without incurring the high costs of cellular connections. Most deployments so far involved VoWIP specialty providers that deploy the 802.11 network themselves or piggyback on an 802.11 network designed for data exchange. SBC's efforts may help the carriers regain a position in this nontraditional form of voice and data service.
Microsoft says it will develop software and services that will help retailers, manufacturers, and distributors use wireless radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags to track and manage goods within stores and factories. RFID holds the promise of better product tracking — during delivery, in inventory, and at the point of purchase. Wal-Mart Stores, for example, has told its suppliers it will soon expect all products to have RFID tags. Because RFID does not require line-of-sight, it makes it easier to scan items at all stages of the retail process. It also opens the possibility of real-time inventory and stock management. A survey of 50 large companies by Venture Development for wireless inventory vendor WhereNet shows that 70% of all inventory tracking is done manually, and 100% of all companies say this creates errors. Meanwhile, Intermec Technologies has begun offering RFID consulting services.
In other news:
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Although the sales of 802.11b chip sets is set to nearly double this year, manufacturers will net less income, according to researcher TechKnowledge Strategies. TechKnowledge forecasts the market for chip sets used to build Wi-Fi cards, access points, and other wireless networking equipment will grow to 41.3 million units in 2003, 83.9% higher than the 22.5 million chip sets shipped last year. But chip-set prices are falling faster, particularly for 802.11b equipment, the most popular Wi-Fi flavor today. As a result, the dollar market will decline 7.7% this year to $340.2 million from $368.7 million in 2002, according to TechKnowledge. The good news in all of this is that the declining chip-set prices will ensure continued deflation for all wireless equipment, making it less expensive for enterprises to deploy. In fact, wireless technology is turning out to be one of the cheapest large-scale infrastructure technologies ever to hit the enterprise.
In hot-spot developments:
Finally, Douglas Electric, a rural electric utility company in Oregon, is now offering customers broadband connectivity over wireless connections. In November 2002, to get additional revenue, the utility began offering wired broadband connections to its electricity customers. This spring, the utility widened its customer base by offering fixed-wireless connections of 50Mbps-to100Mbps throughput using licensed spectrum.
From IT Wireless
As an IT professional, you know that wireless technologies such as 802.11 promise to provide significant benefits to your organization. Before you go full steam ahead, you need answers to your critical concerns about wireless LANs. Questions concerning security, compatibility and best practices, to name just a few. The IT Wireless Insider email newsletter is now here to help you figure it all out.
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