Third-generation networks are gaining ground around the world. According to 3GToday.com, there are now 200 commercial 3G networks in 87 countries, 324 million 3G subscribers and 41 vendors have launched 194 new 3G devices in the last 12 months.
In the United States, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel and Cingular Wireless provide 3G voice and data services in most major cities along with six other 3G operators that include mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) such as Helio, Amp'd Mobile and ESPN.
Verizon Wireless covers 254 million potential customers and 154 million can access its highest-speed data services. The others can access its 60-120Kbps data services. Sprint covers 152 million potential customers in 220 markets and 466 major U.S. airports. Cingular, the newest 3G entry, reports that it presently provides coverage to 40 million potential customers in 18 major markets and roughly the same number of secondary markets as the others.
With each passing month, more locations around the world are gaining access to high-speed wireless data. Today's networks feature faster data rates from the network down to the devices, usually 400-700 Kbps. The speed back to the network is slower, at 120-180 Kbps, because these systems were modeled after how the Internet was being used then, with much more data being delivered to PCs than was being sent back to the Internet. The companies that developed this technology have since realized that this model is not the best for wireless high-speed systems. Within the next year, we will see a dramatic increase in data speeds from the wireless devices back to the network.
Today's 3G networks are fast and easy to use, and many types of devices provide productivity virtually anywhere. Even when you are out of the higher-rate areas, the speeds for most networks only drop to 80-120 Kbps, still faster than dial-up (at 50 Kbps).
Networks, Check. Now What?
A wide variety of devices are available to access your office, Internet and private email services. The simplest device that takes full advantage of high-speed wireless networks is the notebook computer. It is easy to obtain PC Cards from network suppliers. Plug them in, install the software and sign up for service, and you can set up an automatic connection to the network or a connection that is password protected (recommended).
The rest is fairly straightforward. You use this combination as though you were sitting in your home office connected via a wired connection. One reason so many corporations are opting for this model is that it is so easy. Their customers don't have support issues, they just log on and go. This type of connection via a wide-area network is inherently more secure than using a Wi-Fi hotspot and the speeds are fast enough to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or other form of security to add yet another level of protection (also recommended).
Pricing for this type of connection runs from about $80 per month for an unlimited data one-year contract to $60 on a two-year contract. You can buy data in chunks of megabytes and, with a contract, your company can often negotiate a better unlimited price plan or a large number of megabytes to spread over the entire user base.
The business model is better than it sounds. If you travel five or six nights each month and pay for a nightly hotel hard-wired connection, you can easily run up a $50 to $60 monthly bill. Further, with wide-area service you don't have to wait until you get to your room to connect. You can be at the airport, a customer's location or anywhere in between.
One indication that a technology or service has become mainstream is when it is built into notebook computers. It took the computer industry a few years to begin building dial-up modems into their laptops, even longer for infrared and longer still for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Yet within a year of wide-area wireless data service availability, the big three--Lenovo, HP Compaq and Dell--offer notebooks that include both Wi-Fi and wide-area high-speed wireless. The built-in wide-area devices are on PCI cards that can be easily upgraded or replaced if needed, and at least Verizon is offering a special price. For $12 you get a full 24 hours of use anywhere there is Verizon coverage--a service that Verizon calls "taking your hotspot with you."
Wireless Handheld Devices
On the heels of PC Cards for notebooks, several handheld devices capable of taking advantage of these connections have entered the market. Some could be considered smartphones, but some are clamshell-type phones with high-speed data capabilities.
There are two reasons high-speed data is included in this last category of phones. The first concerns consumers. Many can download and play music and video clips. They can also run some spectacular games with 3D graphics, stereo sound and even multiplayer games. The second is that these phones can also connect to your notebook or PDA and be used as a high-speed wireless modem. We have yet to see any of them employ Bluetooth for the connection between the notebook and the phone, but I suspect we will after the next revision of Bluetooth is implemented toward the end of this year.
The choice of higher-end handhelds is growing almost as fast as network build-outs. For example, Verizon Wireless offers a BlackBerry (7130e) EV-DO device that can also be used as a wireless modem for notebooks and PDAs along with six smartphones, four based on Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0 and two on the Palm OS. Sprint offers both Palm and Windows Mobile devices, and Cingular will have a number of smartphone offerings in the very near future.
What are the killer applications? The first is the sheer speed of the connection for accessing corporate information and/or the Internet. The second is the ability to interface with most standard business applications, including opening attachments and keeping in touch with every aspect of your business and personal life without having to lug a notebook around.
Many of these devices are as powerful as the desktop computers we used only a few years ago, and there are thousands of applications that quickly and securely interface with most of today's corporate applications.
Many corporations have yet to deploy wireless data solutions because they don't understand that there is a solid ROI. Thousands of wireless deployments have achieved payback in less than six months and all have enhanced companies' bottom lines. It saves time for field workers, provides better customer response and enables employees to complete their paperwork in the field. Wireless does not cost, it pays! //
Andrew M. Seybold is head of the Andrew Seybold Group and editor-in-chief of Outlook 4Mobility.