Manifest Technology Blog
| DVI Tech
| Site Map
| PC Video
| Web Media
| DVD & CD
| Portable Media
| Digital Imaging
| Wireless Media
| Home Media
| Tech & Society
| Wireless Media Articles
| Mobile Communications Gallery
| Wireless Resources
Wireless Devices: Mobile Internet Access
by Douglas Dixon
See also: Promise of
Wireless: Location-Based Info - Location-Based
OLD - See Princeton,
Can You Hear Me? (9/2003)
- Wireless PDAs - Web Phone Displays
- Web Phone Messaging - Web Phone Services
Are you ready to go wireless? Do you need access to the
Internet everywhere you go? This will be commonplace in a few years, with Web
browsers built into mobile phones and wireless access built into handheld
personal digital assistants (PDAs). Forrester Research has predicted that more
than 55 million Internet-enabled cell phones and PDAs will be in use by 2005 But
even now, you have a wide variety of options for getting connected, with very
clear trade-offs among power and functionality, size and convenience, and cost.
If you are a power user, and need to carry your laptop with
you wherever you go, then you can get a wireless connection for your laptop, and
check your E-mail and surf the net wherever you go. Just please pull your car
over to the side of the road when sending e-mail or making purchases on-line.
If you are a frequent traveler, and need to travel light with
your mobile phone as your lifeline, then you can get an Internet-enabled phone
for E-mail and information access. However, Internet phones have very small
displays, with only a handful of lines of plain text, so you cannot use them to
access lengthy Web sites. In addition, you will want to keep your messages short
as you peck away on the telephone keypad.
The compromise option between these two is to use a wireless
handheld PDA. PDA's can be almost as light as a mobile phone, but still have a
significantly larger screen and a better mechanism for interacting with the
display and entering text. Yes, you have to carry two separate devices, a phone
and a PDA, but that also means that you can access data on the PDA while you are
talking on the phone.
No matter what your preferred approach, you can sign up for
wireless service today, and access a wide range of Internet services.
"Applications are happening now as part of everyday life," says Nick
Zemlachenko, director of wireless data sales and support with Verizon
Communications for the Philadelphia region. "Products and services can be
delivered a lot more efficiently than they used to be."
Verizon, as we all now know thanks to the recent strike, is
the new name for the company created earlier this year by the merger of Bell
Atlantic and GTE. (See www.verizon.com for the new company, and
services in this region under the Bell Atlantic Mobile name.)
If you do need to have full Internet access from your laptop,
then you have several different options for how to connect. In either case, you
need to have some sort of wireless dial-up device that acts like a standard
computer modem that you plug into a phone jack. You then can access the full
capabilities of the Internet from your laptop, albeit at a slower rate than
If you already have a digital phone, you can use your phone to
do the dialing, and connect it by a cable to your laptop. "This gives you
quick 'Net service, connected to your own ISP [Internet Service Provider],"
says Zemlachenko. "You work with your existing mobile price plan, and share
the minutes." You can add this service to your existing digital plan for
around $10 a month, sold under names like Verizon Web Access Dial-up and Sprint
PCS Wireless Web Connection.
The second approach is to use a separate wireless modem, which
looks like other flat PC card devices that slide into a slot in your laptop, but
with the addition of a small antenna attached to one end. "It's the same
Internet experience," says Zemlachenko, "but Verizon is your ISP, and
provides a separate E-mail account." And it does not tie up your phone
line. This dedicated service, like the service offerings for PDA's are typically
packaged as unlimited usage for a fixed fee. Verizon offers this service as Web
Access Internet Plus for $40 a month.
This kind of service has been available for years in niche
markets. "We have been heavily into wireless data for the past five
years," says Zemlachenko. "It's a vertical opportunity, especially in
public safety. The Princeton police patrol with laptops using Verizon to access
national and state crime databases. The New Jersey state police are starting to
deploy, and the Philadelphia Police Department has 850 cars. PSE&G uses a
thousand mobile data computers for dispatch of work orders so they can provide a
higher level of customer service and process more jobs per day with up to date
Handheld PDA's provide a promising compromise between the full
Internet access possible with a laptop and the limited access of a phone. For
example, the Palm has a graphical display at around 160 x 160 resolution, and a
typical text display with 10 lines of 25 or more characters. This means it's not
unreasonable to scroll though a list of E-mail messages, click on the ones you
want to read, and then compose a response by using the Graffiti handwriting
recognition or the on-screen keyboard.
Palm currently offers one model, the Palm VII, with a built-in
wireless modem. Palm offers unlimited access through the BellSouth wireless data
network for $44.99 per month. Owners of the Palm V model can get connected with
the OmniSky / Minstrel wireless modem that slides onto the back of the unit. The
modem lists for $299, but has been discounted to $149. The service costs $39.95
a month for unlimited access through AT&T. Similarly, Verizon offers Web
Access Internet Plus for Palm organizers for $25 a month within the Verizon
region, or $35 for lower roaming rates across the U.S.
Using a PDA is still something of a pain, but it's a lot
better than the alternatives of lugging around a laptop, or squinting at the
miniature screen of a mobile phone and punching out a message with the tiny
keypad. Even without a wireless PDA, I have lightened my load on trips by
leaving the laptop at home and using the Palm modem to connect my Palm to the
hotel phone line so I can check E-mail and even surf the Web.
"If you do E-mail as a regular task, the phone interface
is not the best choice," says Zemlachenko. "Application developers are
trying to perfect a common platform, for phone, handheld, and laptop, and be
able to present a screen consistent with the device."
After all, you really do not want to try to display a complete
Web page on a handheld display. It would be clumsy to try to scroll around a
large page on the smaller handheld display, many pages have fancy animated
features using technologies like Java and Shockwave that are beyond the
capabilities of the handheld software, and you really do not even want to wait
to download large images and backgrounds.
Instead, Palm offers a service called "Web clipping"
and other wireless portals offer "proxy" services that simplify the
display of Web pages by removing extraneous features, simplify the layout, and
even shrink the images to fit the display.
At the other extreme of wireless Internet connectivity is the
new development of Web-enabled mobile phones. The good news with a Web phone is
that you really can access Internet resources, to get instant up-to-date
information, and even to receive and send E-mail messages. The trade-off is that
a small phone display and keypad is a fairly limited interface for exchanging
But if you need that kind of connectivity, a mobile Web phone
can be a lifesaver. "It gives you Internet access out on the road,"
says Zemlachenko. "You can access applications from the phone, find food
and restaurants, or get the best price on product, do a UPC lookup. You can
check stock quotes, respond and take advantage of the market. Salespeople can
find out about a company, and get access to information just before a
Like the laptop dial-up services, you can add Internet and
E-mail service to your existing digital plan for around $10 a month, sold under
names like Verizon Web Access Microbrowser and Sprint PCS Wireless Web Browser.
For an example of how this service works, I'll describe the
interface on a Qualcomm QCP-860 digital phone that Verizon loaned me. This is an
Internet-capable digital phone, with a display that can show four rows of 12
characters each, or just enough to display one phone number per line (i.e.,
To squeeze an interactive interface onto these small displays,
a new Web interface style has been developed for mobile phones based on simple
text menus. WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) was developed by an industrial
consortium and has become the de-facto global standard for wireless information
and telephony services accessed on hand-held devices such as wireless phones,
PDAs and pagers (www.wapforum.org). Web sites that want to provide mobile access
must then be WAP-enabled to reformat their content for small screens, and mobile
phones have built-in mini-browsers that display and interact with the WAP
When you connect to Verizon's service, the phone displays the
main menu, starting with the first four lines:
1 > MyVZW
3 Hot Spots
OK | V
Select a menu item by pressing the corresponding number key,
or by using the scroll up and down keys to move to that line, and then press the
key under OK. The down arrow next to OK (indicated by "V"), means that
there are more items in the menu if you continue to scroll down (up to nine):
5 Customer Care
To get current information, like weather, you keep moving
through the menus: Press 2 for Websites, and then 7 for Weather. Each press
sends a message back to the WAP server, and then you wait a couple of seconds
for the response to come back and be displayed.
At this point, you reach the Weather menu, and need to enter
your location. With the WAP protocol, this menu can have you enter a numeric zip
code, and then send it in to the server. In response, you receive an abbreviated
weather forecast that you can then scroll through on your phone:
Now 51 F
Wind WNW at
Sun: 38 - 55
Beyond information access on a Web phone is two-way messaging
and E-mail. This requires patience, persistence, and brevity, as you peck out
text messages on the telephone keypad. For example, to type the letter
"n," you need to press the "6" key (with letters "mno")
twice, to cycle through the sequence from "m" to "n." You
need to press quickly, because the cursor automatically moves on to the next
character position as soon as you pause for a heartbeat. And entering special
characters like "@" requires a detour though more menus. New
interfaces are being developed to try to improve text entry, so you can just
type each key once, and the phone will guess the appropriate letter or word that
you are trying to enter.
The other issue with messaging this way is that you are
on-line as you are laboriously typing your messages, which can be an issue if
you are paying for the service by the minute. You can see why this kind of
service is best for short messages, and can expect that as it gets more popular
we will be receiving short, lower-case, and heavily abbreviated e-mail.
"We are getting closer," says Zemlachenko.
"It's not out of the question to see the Internet advance out to the phone.
You can just press the key for information on a product."
As you consider signing up for wireless Internet access, you
need to ask the same kind of questions that you ask for any mobile phone,
particularly the type usage that you expect to make of the service and the
geographical region that you tend to travel within. National carriers like
Sprint tend to focus their service on major cities, and then build out their
coverage along major arteries between cities. Historically regional carriers
like Verizon tend to have fuller coverage throughout their home region, although
consolidation has allowed carriers like Verizon to offer service throughout the
The phone-based services tend to be sold as add-ons to your
existing digital phone service, and therefore can share the monthly budget of
minutes in your plan. Dedicated users can also step up to an unlimited plan for
a larger monthly payment. Some services also charge by the amount of traffic,
and extra fees for traveling outside of your carrier's home region.
The PDA and laptop modem services tend to be sold as flat rate
plans with unlimited service. These services actually use a different
communication technology, CDPD (Cellular Digital Packet Data), which requires
additional equipment at the cellular sites. As a result, the coverage area for
CDPD service can differ from a carrier's regular digital phone service.
If you want to use your wireless device as your primary
Internet interface, you also need to be able to access your existing accounts.
Some services allow you to dial in to your existing ISP and access your E-mail
directly, even behind a company firewall. Other services require that they serve
as your ISP, which means that you either have to change your E-mail address, or
arrange to forward all your existing accounts to the new address.
Finally, be aware that this technology is changing fast, and
be ready to upgrade your equipment in another year or two. In particular,
current "second generation" data rates for wireless service are rather
slow, around 14.4 to 19.2 Kbps (thousand bits per second), compared to PC modems
that transmit over phone lines at 56 Kbps.
"The next threshold is 144 Kbps, anticipated in early
2001," says Zemlachenko. "We continue testing newer technology, and
working on application development and network infrastructure. There is a whole
lot going on in the background. We are going to see speeds tremendously faster
than where we are today."
Sprint PCS Wireless Web
www.sprintpcs.com/wireless -> www.sprintpcs.com
Verizon Web Access / Bell Atlantic Mobile
www.bam.com/wireless -> www.verizonwireless.com