Be on the wave or under it™
The News – 01/23/02
Choosing a Cell Phone
Alert SNS Reader Roger Hamm wants to know what to do about PDA/cell
phone convergence. Is it time to make the jump, or does it make
sense to wait until new services such as GPRS (General Packet
Radio Service) become available?
With the average cell phone user getting a new phone every two
years or so, it's likely that anything you buy today will be replaced
soon enough anyway, so there's little risk in buying a phone today,
at least for the cheaper ones. With the PDA-integrated phones
costing north of $300, however, the decision becomes a little
The only reason to wait to buy a normal phone would be to see
if AT&T Wireless (now independent of its famous parent) gets
its act together with GPRS. From a pilot in Seattle a little more
than six months ago, the company has added eight markets and plans
to serve about 40 percent of current customers with GPRS by the
end of the year, and serve all its markets by the end of 2002.
So they're making progress.
So what's so cool about GPRS? Well, first of all, data rates
are faster than the 2G (Second Generation) digital wireless system
you undoubtedly have today. With a normal phone, data access is
pretty limited, about 9.6Kbps or roughly five to six times slower
than a 56Kbps modem. With GPRS, you could use up to four 9.6Kbps
timeslots, yielding throughput of about up to 38.4Kbps, which
is comparable to the speed you get when uploading using a 56Kbps
modem. You'll see vendors claiming much faster access. In the
real world, however, it's unlikely you'll ever get all four available
slots, so your mileage may vary. In fact, you could be sharing
timeslots with other users, since GPRS doesn't require a dedicated
slot, but rather acts more like a normal IP network and sends
traffic when it can. These limitations notwithstanding, you at
least have a shot at faster throughput.
Of course, the question is, what will you do with that throughput.
On the dinky little screens available on most phones, I'd say
not much. I've got Internet access on my phone and couldn't be
less interested in slogging through dozens of screens to look
up a movie time, for example.
Undaunted by the real challenges of the crippled cell phone user
interface, AT&T promotes these advantages for GPRS:
- Wireless access to information and e-mail. AT&T wants
you to believe that mobile workers can have access to corporate
applications, email, and intranets or the Web. Of course, you
can do that today, just not easily.
- Voice calling on the world-standard GSM network. The GSM standard
is in use in over 150 countries around the world. Unfortunately,
not every GSM system uses the same radio bandwidth, so this
advantage is softened.
- Constant connectivity. Unlike the kludgy
Web access available on current phones, which require you to
stop talking and initiate a data connection first, GPRS offers
instant access to the data network. Once in data mode, you are
ready to send or receive data in real time since there's no
dial-up required to connect to the network. The company falls
short of claiming you can talk on the phone and surf the Web
at the same time.
- Pay only for the data you use. This "advantage"
could turn into a disadvantage. Palm started its Palm VII wireless
service with a similar scheme, although AT&T users only
pay for the amount of transmitted data rather than network connect
time. AT&T is bundling 400 voice minutes with a megabyte
of download for $50. However, users don't like variable cost
Web access, so we'll just see how long this business model lasts.
- Powerful, easy-to-use devices. The AT&T Wireless GSM/GPRS
network supports a variety of devices, including phones and
GSM/GPRS PC Card modems, for use with a Pocket PC or a laptop
- Long battery life. Characteristics of the AT&T Wireless
GSM/GPRS network provide for more efficient battery use.
- Secure and reliable transmissions. The AT&T network provides
encryption and authentication for enhanced voice and data transmission
security, and packet data technology for reliable transmissions.
We'll just see how secure it is.
- Get customers to pay for 3G network upgrade. This benefits
AT&T mostly, of course. By doing the GPRS upgrade, AT&T
will incur most of the expense of offering advanced 3G wireless
services and get revenue in the process. "We've got to
install switches, new antennas and software," AT&T
Wireless spokesman Ritch Blasi says.
"As we move to deploying EDGE [Enhanced Data rates for
Global Evolution, a rather grandiose name for the next level
of technology], that's a software upgrade." The final evolution
to UMTS (Universal Mobile Telephone System), or full 3G technology,
will involve software and minor hardware upgrades. Unfortunately,
UMTS is only one of at least three technologies competing to
be the 3G standard worldwide.
AT&T is not the only wireless player to have GPRS capability,
although they were the first.
Cingular Wireless has started migrating its network to EDGE technology
that supports speeds as high as 384Kbps. Sounds great, but their
first step is to install GSM and GRPS technology on top of its
TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) and analog networks, just
like AT&T. Cingular has already employed GPRS in some markets,
including Seattle and Las Vegas, the Carolinas, eastern Tennessee
and coastal Georgia.
Voicestream, the US's largest GSM network, said its new GPRS-based
iStream network operates at 40 Kbps, and is available nationwide.
They are charging $5 per month for a megabyte. Currently, the
service only works with the Motorola P280
Sprint plans on skipping directly to true 3G services, offering
speeds of up to 144 kbps, and nationwide. It remains to be seen
if this is the smart move or not.
So is it worthwhile to wait until GPRS is available? Hard to
say. The PDA/cell phone converged devices are already available
for current wireless networks (of course, not including the one
I use, AT&T). They'll have larger screens and make it somewhat
less annoying to use the Internet. Many of the currently available
combo units even feature the Palm operating system.
If you don't want to wait, Sprint has the Kyocera
phone, and I've talked to several people who have it and love
it. It's fatter than a phone and skinnier than a Palm V. The screen
is approximately two-thirds the size of the Palm V, but it beats
trying to fit a Palm and a phone in your pants pocket. Another
alternative is the Samsung
phone (reported in a previous SNS)
which is Palm-based with a color screen, but which is a little
Sprint also has an add-on module
for the Handspring PDA that turns it into a phone (reported in
a previous SNS).
I've heard good things about it, but don't know anyone who has
Verizon offers the cool Motorola V200,
which is a pager on steroids. This is an example of the engineers
not understanding their true role in life. About a year ago Motorola
announced that they'd have a converged phone by 2003 or 2004.
I thought, what the heck? Their lunch will be all eaten by then.
Well nobody told the pager guys it was hard to do. So they just
slapped a phone into their text pager, and voila! Convergence.
Verizon also offers the Kyocera
Voicestream's network coverage is improving, but still lags the
others. They offer the Motorola V100,
similar to the V200.
Cingular offers a cool Motorola
phone, but their coverage is not nationwide, although they claim
more than 21.2 million customers in 38 states, and 42 of the top
50 markets nationwide, covering more than 93 percent of the urban
business population located in 492 Metropolitan Statistical Areas
(MSAs) and non-MSAs with a total population of 200 million people.
They sound a tad defensive, don't they? And they're not in Minneapolis,
so what does that tell you?
BTW, Cingular has by far the worst Web site of the bunch. Wringing
any significant information out of it is an achievement.
Several regional wireless players also have cool phones. For
example, Qwest offers the Kyocera
phone. Qwest's coverage is quite limited, however, and does not
include Illinois, for example.
And we can't forget our favorite software monopoly. Microsoft
is pushing its SmartPhone technology, but I'm not aware of any
major phone maker who is planning on releasing it in a phone.
So the answer to Roger's question is: If you're willing to plunk
down $400 to $500 on a converged device that might be obsolete
as early as the end of this year, go for it. For my money, I'd
get a Handspring with the plug in module. It's a bulkier, more
expensive package, and the antenna could poke holes in your pants,
but at least you've got a shot at selling the module on eBay once
it becomes obsolete.
- Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: StratVantage
has launched a new service, CTOMentor™, designed to allow Chief
Technology Officers and other technical leaders to get rid of
the Guilt Stack, that pile of magazines you’ll get around to
CTOMentor is a subscription advisory service tailored to customers’
industry and personal information needs. Four times a year CTOMentor
provides a four-hour briefing for subscribers and their staffs
on the most important emerging technology trends that could
affect their businesses. As part of the service, subscribers
also get a weekly email newsletter, Just the Right Stuff™,
containing links to the Top 10 Must Read articles needed to
stay current. These and other CTOMentor services will let you
Burn Your Inbox™.
As part of its launch, CTOMentor is offering a two-part white
paper on peer-to-peer technology: Peer-to-Peer Computing
and Business Networks: More Than Meets the Ear. Part 1,
What is P2P?, is available for free on the CTOMentor
Part 2, How Are Businesses Using P2P?, is available for $50.
- All Things Must Pass: Microsoft has announced
that it is ending support for Windows 95. The operating system
has entered the "Non-Supported" phase of Microsoft's
product lifecycle. This means only online support is offered,
and good luck getting any bugs fixed. Expect other software
vendors to follow suit and drop support for Win95 versions,
like Black Ice Defender
did recently. Win95 was the last Microsoft OS that ran decently
on 486 machines, so it's time to either donate those machines
to a good cause or load Linux on them. The following OSes are
either non-supported or scheduled to be:
MS DOS x.xx (December 31, 2001)
Windows 3.xx (December 31, 2001)
Windows 95 (November 30, 2001)
Windows NT 3.5x (December 31, 2001)
Windows 98/98 SE (June 30, 2003)
Windows NT 4.xx (June 30, 2003)
- Let Me Roll You:
SNS Reader David Dabbs sent along an article about Rolltronics
Corporation and Iowa Thin Film Technologies, who recently demonstrated
the first working silicon transistors made using a new "roll-to-roll"
manufacturing technique. In this process, a continuous sheet
of flexible polymer is unrolled from one spool, covered with
silicon circuit designs, and collected on another spool. Such
cheap, thin electronics could be incorporated into radio-frequency
ID tags, (see the Auto-ID entry in the TrendSpot),
digital X-ray detector panels, biometric sensors and flat screen
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