Telcos fight for mobile net users

Lack of content for mobile users is annoying, but the situation may not last. If the pipes are big enough, why not just pour in the existing internet? Plenty of content there.

Lack of content for mobile users is annoying, but the situation may not last. If the pipes are big enough, why not just pour in the existing internet? Plenty of content there.

But some technological change will be needed. Up to now GSM has been pretty popular – 500 million GSM users in 171 countries. Telecom is putting its money on CDMA (code division multiple access). Characterised by high capacity and small cell radius, CDMA uses spread-spectrum technology with each call uniquely encoded – the combination of encoding and spread spectrum provides greater network capacity and high security for calls. Telecom is to offer mobiles with a mere 14.4Kbit/s data capacity to start, but by the end of this year says it will crank the speed up to 144Kbit/s.

And in the future, handheld videophones at last become an ominous possibility, along with transmission of serious amounts of data to mobile users, who will need to powerful mobile systems to keep up. High quality streamed video and audio are also on the cards for 2003 or thenabouts.

CDMA is being experimented with by telcos all over the world. Travellers will no longer need to obtain a special mobile just for the US, because North, Central and South America are committed to the technology, along with most of Western and Eastern Europe and Asia. Flies in the ointment are few: in return for a better feature set than Vodafone, Telecom users need to retire their 025 mobiles and replace them with 027 numbers.

Vodafone, naturally, strongly disputes Telecom’s claim that CDMA provides the total answer to any problems of mobile communication.

Business marketing GM Todd McLeay says takeup figures suggest GSM, with a claimed 83 million customers worldwide, hasn’t lost its momentum yet. Meanwhile, CDMA is barely off the ground, with many more expressions of intent than working CDMA systems, he says.

“Technology isn’t much at issue,” says McLeay, “it’s what you can actually do with it.” As a demonstration of what you can do with it, Vodafone has set up WOW (wireless office working) space in an office in downtown Auckland.

A collection of bays and cubicles make up a schematic mock-up of a wireless office and its equally wireless field operations. Vodafone has software to text-message every employee of a theoretical company simultaneously; to allow out-of-office workers to have full access to Microsoft Outlook from a WAP phone, or a wireless-modem equipped PDA or notebook PC; an inexpensive hosted mobile CRM system and another even less expensive sales tracking system; and hardware ranging from a rack-mounted Compaq server capable of supporting a medium-sized business and its wireless data transmission needs, through to all the Visor, Palm and Pocket PC trinkets I’ve ever burdened myself with, plus every Bluetooth short-range wireless device available, and even a GSM phone with a built-in GPS system.

And it’s all available now, more or less off the shelf. If you want to implement some of these solutions it is likely to require as much work as in deploying any significant purpose-designed business application – somewhere between trivial and paradigm-shifting.

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