Going Wireless - Five Points to Guide You…
Going Wireless - Five Points to Guide You…
By: Kevin Wittmer
Jan. 1, 2000 12:00 AM
If you're planning a wireless initiative, but are confused by the alphabet soup of acronyms such as WML, PQA, RIM, EPOC, CDMA, GPRS, and countless others, this article will help clear things up with a discussion of five key points to understand now, as well as what to look for in the future.
Launching a project to provide wireless access of mission-critical applications or data to mobile users can be challenging. Often there's a myriad of requirements, technical considerations, integration issues, field-testing trials, deployment challenges, and cost issues to address. One of the most challenging aspects of developing information systems that employ wireless solutions is dealing with technology that's still in its infancy. Therefore, there are five key points that should be clearly defined before moving forward with any wireless initiative:
1. Mobile Device Platform
Each mobile device platform offers a unique user interface display and input control. Palm OS-based devices, for example, offer a stylus touch screen for navigation and data entry, while non-Palm-style smart cell phones typically sport some combination of numeric keypad controls along with cursor control keys. Two-way paging devices from Motorola and RIM offer mini-alphanumeric keypads. Portable standard keyboards are available as an accessory option for most pocket PC PDAs.
The decision as to which mobile device platform to use can be a heavily charged issue for an organization looking to implement a wireless access solution into the enterprise. Therefore avoid the bias for a particular mobile platform guide during the decision-making process. Instead, focus the discussion on the requirements of the business applications that will be deployed on the mobile platform, and the type of control and data-entry functions required of the user interface.
Be sure to consider all the possibilities. For example, the application to be accessed over the device may require the voice and interactive key controls from the user simultaneously. In this case, a Palm OS-based smart phone with a handsfree set might be the best option. Finally, consider the cost per unit of the mobile device and multiply that by the estimated number of units that will be deployed to the field to gain an idea of how much the initial costs of field deployment will be and whether it falls within the planned budget. Understanding the type of business applications that will be accessed over (or deployed on) the mobile platform and the requirements of the user interface is critical. However, it will most likely not be the sole criteria for platform selection. Wireless coverage area will also be a significant factor.
2. Coverage Area
Avoid getting caught up in the alphabet soup of wireless air interfaces (CDMA2000 1X, PDC-D, UMTS, GPRR, EDGE, Bluetooth, IEEE 802.11b, etc.) at this part of the analysis stage. Instead, focus on the coverage area that will need to be serviced, the wireless data rate required, the types of wireless services being offered (SMS, WAP 2.0, i-mode, etc.), and whether the various costs of the service will remain within the specified budget. Once coverage area, required packet data rate, service options, and associated costs have been specified, the choice of air interfaces (and hence wireless carriers if coverage is beyond an office or campus area) will narrow quickly, making the decision process easier.
Keep in mind that everything in the world of wireless is subject to change. Therefore, it becomes advantageous to lay out a few upgrade paths in the analysis stage that make up an overall migration strategy from the existing mobile device-air interface solution to be adopted toward the newer 2.5G and 3G wireless technologies as they become available in coverage areas of interest.
3. Upgrade Path
The upgrade path that a particular carrier selects will determine both the types of services that will be available [including extended messaging capabilities, high-speed packet data, video-streaming, location-based services (LBS) and voice-over-IP (VoIP)] and in what time frame. The stakes for carriers such as Vodafone, Sprint PCS, AT&T Wireless, and many others are extremely high as they race to plan and deploy the next generation of wireless networks through a series of upgrade paths.
Table 2 is a sampling of wireless service providers, their current network technologies, and future upgrades. Keep in mind that although a particular carrier may have announced plans to upgrade to a particular 2.5G or 3G wireless technology by a given date, these plans may have been delayed due either to the challenge in obtaining the frequency spectrum (which has often been the case for 3G deployment in North America) or the tight financial constraints that nearly all carriers are operating under, given the extended downturn in the telecom sector, or both. If a particular carrier has committed to launching a 2.5G or 3G technology in a time frame that's agreeable with your project plans, be sure to learn which markets (metropolitan or other regional areas) will be the first to have the faster wireless technologies installed.
The bottom line is: it's vital to understand exactly what current or potential wireless carriers' existing technologies are, as well as their plans to upgrade to 2.5G or 3G networks, and whether their time lines for upgrade mesh with the deployment plans of your wireless business application (see Table 4 for information on CDMA2000 deployments). The demands that the wireless business application places on the wireless network interface (e.g., effective data rate) will be determined by the type of mobile application. This topic will be examined next.
4. Type of Mobile Application Technology
Interactive Voice-Based Applications
Wireless Messaging Applications
One of the best indications of a mature and established wireless cellular technology is coverage area availability in metropolitan and suburban areas, as well as in areas close to interstate highways. When this is considered, paging technologies such as ReFLEX, used by SkyTel, and SMS, used by GSM operators such as Vodafone, score very high. On the enterprise application side, a number of software companies offer mobile enterprise products that support wireless message-based paging protocols like SMS. Table 6 lists various messaging products including the Microsoft Mobile Information Server, Covigo, Lutris Enhydra, MobileShift, SMS Gateway from EI Group, and SMPP Developer's Toolkit from Logic A.
Wireless Web Applications
Whether your initial strategy involves creating a new wireless channel for existing content, or creating a new wireless Web site from the ground up using WML and WMLScript, for example, the choice of tools (see Table 7) is more diverse than you probably expected. All of these integrated development environments (IDEs) listed are available for Windows and generally include a visual editor, compiler, debugger, and mobile device simulator.
Lightweight Database Applications
Thin Client/Server Wireless Applications
Unfortunately, many of these network technologies are designed to operate over tethered Internet connections where continuous, high-speed, reliable data links are generally assumed, and therefore have not been adapted to the specific characteristics often experienced over wireless data connections such as on-again, off-again link connections based on the distance from the local wireless base station.
The lack of application-level transports geared toward wireless connections is a reflection of a much larger void that currently exists. At this time, there are no common application programming interfaces geared toward wireless connectivity that have been developed, standardized, and adopted across major platforms such as EPOC, J2ME, Palm, RIM, and Windows CE. As a result, software developers find themselves having to build applications for smart phones and PDAs using vendor-specific SDKs and APIs, many of which have been more closely optimized to work with the unique characteristics of a particular wireless technology type or mobile device platform.
Vendor-specific SDKs will typically support a particular carrier's air interface for which that mobile device is commonly deployed on, as will be the case with RIM's Java SDK support of GPRS when it becomes available this fall. J2ME, with platforms for Palm, RIM, and Windows CE, might be the best hope for standardization of an API for wireless network access across various mobile platforms. However, this will probably not occur until the newer 2.5G and 3G technologies have been deployed and are operating, which will pave the way for rapid growth in the field of mobile platform software technologies.
5. Enterprise Integration
One of the most important factors to consider when choosing a mobile application platform is the number of data sources (HTTP or HTML, XML, database, etc.) that it supports out-of-the-box. Other critical points to consider include how much legacy information will need to be accessed by the mobile user, and what format this information is in. As noted earlier in this article, a number of vendors including Covigo, iConverse, and Mobile ID (see Table 7) have mobile application products to perform conversion of HTML-based material and make it suitable for display on wireless devices.
Features commonly found in mobile application platforms include subsystem components to generate mobile device markup such as cHTML, HDML, MML, Palm PQA, and WML; component services for WAP push; subsystem interface support to existing database systems or XML sources; interfaces to mail servers such as Microsoft Exchange Server or Lotus Domino Server; HTML translation services to repurpose existing content for display on mobile devices; VoiceXML browsing and voice-synthesis services; wireless messaging support such as SMS; and in some cases, Java 2 Mobile Edition (J2ME) application provisioning. Other features in a mobile application platform that can prove to be important include tools for mobile software distribution and mobile device network management functions, such as those found in the 4thpass Mobile Application System (MAS).
The type of enterprise information sources that are going to be made available to the mobile user, the type of mobile applications that will be distributed to the mobile user base, and the selection of mobile system platforms and associated wireless technologies are all key factors to consider when attempting to formulate a wireless solution that will work within an existing enterprise. However, there are many others that are beyond the scope of this article including security (LDAP, SSL, WTLS, etc.), administrating the wireless channel/access, and field trial testing, just to name a few.
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