Wireless to Transform How We Communicate
Enormous advances in wireless communications are ushering in a new era wherein organisations can dramatically improve productivity and efficiency, enhance competitive advantage and greatly benefit from more efficient communications with customers, vendors and key staff. New analysis from Technical Insights states: “Enterprises today are seeing real benefits from the use of mobile devices and applications. However, for m-commerce to grow significantly, a fully developed mobile communications network, ever more sophisticated devices and killer applications that enable ‘anytime, anywhere’ access of information [are] essential.”
Currently, 2G technologies such as code division multiple access (CDMA), global system for mobile communications (GSM) and time division multiple access (TDMA) continue to dominate communications in many countries including the United States and Europe. However, next-generation 3G wireless technologies are increasingly moving into the spotlight with telecom operators worldwide expected to gradually shift from 2G to the 3G infrastructure.
3G promises to offer robust multimedia capabilities and even provide location-enabled features. With 3G, a user could conduct a voice conversation while surfing the Internet, or perhaps take part in a video conference while sending a fax. Most exciting, 3G promises a truly global wireless system in which users could conceivably network with anyone from anywhere in the world.
3G is also poised to provide substantially faster data access speeds, supported by packet-switched capabilities for high-speed data services and circuit-switched capabilities for voice communications. It is expected to initially boost data speeds from a relatively slow 14.4 Kbps to a much faster 384 Kbps that is anticipated to later go up to two Mbps.
3G technologies such as wideband code division multiplex access (WCDMA) and ultra wideband (UWB) could revolutionise communication as we know it. Built on open standards, WCDMA is currently the dominant 3G technology as it has tremendous potential in terms of providing wide-ranging mobile multimedia features and economies of scale. Using a new spectrum with a 5 MHz carrier, WCDMA provides data rates that are 50 times higher than GSM networks.
Additionally, operators benefit from being able to reuse their original investments in the transition toward 3G. Since WCDMA is essentially evolved from GSM technology, operators are not compelled to either transform their networks or do away with existing infrastructure.
Until date, Japan has been most aggressive in developing 3G primarily since its spectrum shortages are unable to cater to the phenomenal growth in demand for cellular services. Therefore, Japanese wireless operators are leading the way in international standardisation efforts with companies such as NTT DoCoMo and Japan Telecom focusing on WCDMA as their preferred technology for 3G services.
In Europe, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) is engaged in developing a European set of 3G standards, called the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS). The UMTS Terrestrial Radio Access (UTRA) is strongly focused on finding ways through which GSM can evolve into 3G by taking advantage of WCDMA technology.
In other emerging 3G technologies, UWB could well be the one that realises the dream of the digital consumer and the ‘connected home’. This high-speed, short-range wireless technology holds great potential to deliver the superior bandwidth and quality of service (QoS) required by consumer electronics companies.
A group of UWB companies – the Multi-Band Coalition – is currently spearheading standardisation of the ideal UWB technology for the IEEE 802.15.3a. Companies expect the standard to be finalised in the first quarter of 2005 and standards-compliant silicon solutions to be available within the same time frame.
“UWB is likely to first be used in consumer applications within the home, with several companies already using the technology to develop applications allowing DVD-quality video content to be streamed around the home,” says Technical Insights Research Analyst Sathyaraj Radhakrishnan.
Meanwhile, the rapid proliferation of wireless local area networks (WLAN) might hamper the adoption of 3G technology in some cases. Wi-Fi standards such as 802.11b still represent the fastest way to access data at rates between 6 Mbps and 11 Mbps. Two new technologies, 802.11a and its European counterpart HiperLAN2, are likely to provide even higher rates of up to 72 Mbps with the latter also offering advanced QoS and roaming features.
Additionally, they have a significant cost advantage since a typical hot spot for WLAN costs less than $200, while a 3G base station costs between $500,000 and $1 million. With such advantages, it seems inevitable that some portion of wireless carriers’ investment will be directed toward WLAN equipment.
“However, there is no denying that the world will still need 3G technology to fill in the extensive gaps that are likely between hot spots. After all, no one is under the impression that the entire world will be covered by WLANs, 150 feet at a time,” concludes Mr. Radhakrishnan.
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