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Is Worldwide Wireless Broadband Barreling Our Way?

Is Worldwide Wireless Broadband Barreling Our Way?

Worldwide wireless broadband connectivity is spreading around the globe. What technologies are taking us there? How close are we? What are the obstacles?

Robert Hoskins, director of the Broadband Wireless Alliance (BWA), describes three network environments that help define the three available wireless connectivity types. "Think about it more as PANs, LANs, and WANs," he says, "Personal Area Networks, Local Area Networks, and Wide Area Networks. All of these can be either fixed or mobile networks. You sacrifice bandwidth for mobility."

Hoskins detailed his view of wireless bandwidth and connectivity with the following examples. An uncompressed phone call takes up 64Kbps of bandwidth. With digital compression, a voice phone call takes up 8Kbps of bandwidth. A real broadband connection should deliver at least 1Mbps. Today's fastest mobile network, Ricochet, which is no longer in service, delivered 128Kbps. This would be considered a wireless WAN. With fixed wireless, the antenna is in a fixed location just like a satellite dish. This allows for more power, more gain, and more amplitude if needed. Fixed wireless can provide up to 8Mbps.

LANs and PANs are indoor networks that can provide mobile connectivity within 500 feet of wireless access points. They can deliver up to 10Mbps but typically provide only 1-2Mbps. Stationary wireless will play a major role in bringing broadband into areas of the world where no other broadband connectivity is available, such as in rural areas or third-world countries.

John Harrison, cofounder, former CEO, and now board member for Ecutel, divides up the territory from a different angle. He sees it as three wireless technologies: Pico, Micro, and Macro. All are useful depending on the distance you need to cover, the bandwidth you require, and the particular type of application you want to transmit.

Here is Harrison's breakdown: "At the Pico level you have Bluetooth and wireless LANs, operating anywhere from 11-54Mbps and they can transmit any sort of data, voice, video, file sharing, remote access, most likely anything you'd like to do. After that you have microcellular coverage [Ricochet was a prime example before going bankrupt last year]. And then at the macro level you have cellular data, which has different types of protocols - CDMA [and] GPRS, the DoCoMo system, which is a proprietary system in Japan. So you see, the closer you get to the point of connectivity, the faster your speeds are and therefore, the richness of IP traffic becomes more apparent."

If by Land
Stationary wireless is also available today, and is especially popular in rural areas that don't have the infrastructure to support other forms of broadband. This was the personal experience of the BWA's Hoskins. "When I moved to Phoenix I moved to a new neighborhood thinking, wow, I'm going to be able to get a cable modem or DSL or something, only to find out that my neighborhood was built on top of a farm telecommunications infrastructure that was installed 20 or 30 years ago, and that neither DSL nor cable modems would be available for another two or three years.

"If it wasn't for this wireless service, I would still be using a dial-up modem, and I think the majority of the U.S. is just like that. There is no broadband choice, and broadband wireless is probably one of the quickest ways to solve that problem, especially in small towns." This technology has a cell size (the radius from the transmitter) of 35 miles, which will work to provide coverage for a large portion of most cities.

Now, if there's a stationary wireless provider in your area, you have to wonder what's involved in getting connected. "It's actually a very simple configuration," says Hoskins. "A 13x13-in. square antenna called a dish or a transceiver must be installed. It works much like a satellite TV setup does. The only difference is that instead of receiving a signal from a satellite, you receive it from a tower located somewhere nearby. The network is then configured like this: your antenna is mounted on a pole that is attached to the side of your house or the roof. From there a coaxial cable runs down the side of your house, comes through the wall, and hooks into a wireless cable modem (some people call it a wireless router) - some type of device that converts RF (radio frequency) to an Ethernet signal. That piece of coax runs into the wireless router and another cable comes out that plugs into the Ethernet card in the back of your PC."

Up to Two Years for Worldwide Connection
The projections of some of our experts are that we will be close to a worldwide wireless connection in two to three years. It will take only about two years for stationary wireless to reach climactic deployment. According to the BWA's Hoskins, "I think a lot of this development is going on behind the scenes, because most of the companies that are doing it are small companies. They don't have a team of PR people to crank out press releases on the work they're doing. And I don't think they'll get a lot of recognition till probably 2003. A lot of the industry analysts that we work with [estimate that] right now it's probably a $100-million business. They expect it to be a $6-billion business by 2003. [That's] tremendous growth."

If by Air
There are varying obstacles to the spread of more, bigger and better wireless bandwidth. Technically, the WCDMA 3G technology has no obstacles. Providers outside the U.S. are ready to implement some of this technology now. Other technologies mentioned have limited bandwidth, distance, mobility, or application issues. 3G, however, faces huge financial obstacles. 3G voice technology has been around longer than 3G data technology, and the two are certainly different. The financial point here is that although 3G voice has been around longer, it is hard to ask carriers to build out 3G infrastructure for cellular phones because they still haven't paid for the current cellular networks. So, although 3G data technology is newer, it is much easier to ask carriers to build out 3G data networks that are a new commodity for a pretty much untapped market with a solid business (i.e., profit) plan, which will compete well against other broadband offerings for the laptop and desktop PC.

Harrison puts it like this: "You might have seen the frequencies for third-generation wireless systems in Europe [selling] for $5 billion. Now that's before any tower is built to support the deployment of the architecture. So right there you run into cost issues, because it's going to take billions above that to build out the network.

"The business case is obvious [though]; it's there. [About] 20% of our [U.S.] workforce is mobile. However, the corporations are mobilizing their workforces to where more than 80% will be mobilized in the next two to three years. The simple increase in infrastructure to support that is substantial. You start to see where the companies are deploying wireless LANs as some sort of mobility fix. You start to see that places like hotels and conference areas and airports and even Starbucks are going to have wireless LANs. So you start to have a bunch of microcellular coverage areas that are going to fill in some patches. The business cases there are driving it. Because [for] each one of these networks, their first market will be the businesses. And the businesses and the service providers see these systems as extensions to their existing networks to support this larger, faster-growing, data-hungry mobile workforce."

Business issues tend to slow 3G adoption in the U.S. Rather than make better use of the 2.5GHz spectrum, the U.S. carriers all want a piece of the 3G pie and there is only so much to go around. Stationary wireless has only one drawback. According to Hoskins, "The fact is, in order to get wireless connectivity, you need line of sight. All the other things are actually positive. Financially, it's much cheaper to build and develop a wireless network; it's much quicker. It's not like a wired network where you have to wire every house in the network to provide service in the neighborhood. For a wireless system you just put up an antenna and sell modems to whoever wants it. It's kind of build as you go. It's very cost efficient, you get a quick return on investment, but you do need line of sight."

Hook Us Up!
Once the varying types of wireless connectivity propagate, people will still need to switch from one connection type to another in different parts of the world. Technologies are already being made available to facilitate simple, secure, and effective wireless roaming for data services. This is just the offering that Ecutel has brought to the wireless community.

"One of the scenarios that we give is that of consultants going from their office using a local area network (wired) while they are downloading a file, and having a video and a voice session; unplugging from their LAN to their wireless LAN to go into the conference room. That session would stay constantly connected; the data transmission would remain secure so that it is not compromised. And then they would go from the conference room into their car and instantly enter the cellular data network while traversing the firewall, yet all that data transmission stays continuous and now peer-to-peer or collaborative," says Harrison.

Harrison describes an experience he had, using Ecutel's Viatores software solution, "My [then] CFO and I traveled to Oslo, Norway, yesterday. We left our offices using a wireless LAN and went to the airport. We used the Sprint CDMA service while never losing our connection. At that time, we wanted to have a peer-to-peer session with one of our network administrators. We were able to communicate with him automatically. We didn't know where he was; he happened to be at home using his wireless LAN. We got on the plane and obviously, the connections had to stop. (But in discussions that we've had with Scandinavian Airlines they're going to put wireless LANs onto airplanes. So then, theoretically, we would be able to continue that session.) Once our plane landed at Frankfurt we started to use the GSM network. It's basically a GPRS system. This whole time we maintained a connection. There was no loss other than on the airplane. We arrived at the Oslo airport, got onto the train and into our hotel, and I've been connected ever since. So it's pretty much here today, but you would have to have our solution to allow you to roam seamlessly and securely and maintain that collaboration."

(Ecutel is currently on the market in Europe and Japan where they are partnering with Hewlett-Packard and Matsushita, the parent of Panasonic.)

Major League Play
Major players gearing up now to provide 3G include Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, NTT DoCoMo, Deutsche Telecom, British Telecom, Vodafone, and Telenor. There are 1,996 independent providers of wireless Internet service via stationary wireless...and climbing. Thanks to these and companies like Ecutel, for some of us, global wireless broadband with wireless data roaming has arrived. It's a matter of money, time, demand, and deployment before it is here for the rest of us.


WHO'S ON BOARD

Just some of the many distinguished wireless movers and shakers we're honored to have sitting on WBT's International Advisory Board or Technical Advisory Board

Simon Phipps
Chief Software Evangelist, Sun Microsystems, responsible for expounding and explaining the "big picture" of software development. (www.sun.com)

Anita Osterhaug
 Director of Knowledge Products for Brokat AG, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, and San Jose, California. (www.brokat.com)

James Pearce
Director of Encerca, the new name for AnywhereYouGo.com's Wireless Internet Lab, which now has its own Web site - an expansion of AYG's WAP testing, monitoring, and consultancy services. (www.encerca.com)

James Gosling
Cocreator of the Java programming language, currently Vice President and Fellow at Sun Microsystems working at Sun Labs where his primary interest is software development tools. (www.sun.com)

Peter Roxburgh
A Mobile Solutions developer with Secure Trading Ltd., the foremost service for processing Internet-based credit card payments in the United Kingdom. (www.securetrading.com)

Larry Mittag
VP and Chief Technologist of Stellcom, Inc., he has more than 25 years of technical and strategic expertise with wireless systems integration and embedded systems design and development. (www.stellcom.com)

Rajiv Gupta
Worldwide champion of "E-Speak" and Hewlett Packard's Chief Architect of E-services. (www.hp.com)

Douglas Lamont
Visiting professor of marketing at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. The author of Conquering the Wireless World: The Age of M-Commerce, and six other international marketing books, he holds a PhD in business administration.

Ron Dennis
Cofounded Livemind, Inc., led the third-party developers group at AOL, and created AOL's Web Hosting Service and Software Greenhouse. Ron has guided several Internet start-ups. (www.livemind.com)

Andrea Hoffman
Editor-in-Chief and Technical Director of Mobile Media Japan, an Internet portal for information on the Japanese wireless industry. (www.MobileMediaJapan.com)

More Stories By David Geer

David Geer is a contributing writer to WBT, a journalist, and a computer technician. He graduated from Lake Erie College in 1993 with a BA in psychology and has worked in the computer industry and in the media since 1998.

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