Will The Wireless Bubble Burst?

What’s a mobile enterprise user to do? The evolution of converged wireless voice and data networks in Canada is beginning to peak.

Both Rogers AT&T Wireless and Microcell Telecommunications Inc.’s GSM/GPRS networks have been available for some time, while Telus Mobility’s 1X network (an

evolution of the CDMA wireless standard), with its offer of transmission rates of up to 144 kilobits per second (kbps), was rolled out last June.

According to Calgary-based wireless systems and standards consultant David Crowe, one of the challenges the wireless industry faces in 2003 is to determine a network standard.

The CDPD (cellular digital packet data) network runs over the analogue cellular system and it’s still widely used, but its future isn’t bright, he says. Rogers AT&T Wireless will cancel the network in 2004. General packet radio service (GPRS) and 1X are the two viable alternatives.

“”The problem is (GPRS) speed is less than promised, and this problem is true of all networks,”” he says.

Crowe says the GRPS transmission rate — said to be in the 64 kbps range, but typically running at 20 kbps or less — is akin to receiving a cable Internet service at home. The more users on the system, the slower the system performs.

David Neale, vice-president of new product development for Rogers AT&T Wireless in Toronto, says Telus’s 1X network seems to boast a higher burst rate, but he says there’s no real speed difference between it and Rogers AT&T Wireless’ GSM/GPRS network. Neale says the enterprise user should consider coverage and device availability. “”The difference for the user is to look at the range of devices that are available and are compatible with our network, and the fact that coverage with Rogers is wider,”” he says. Rogers claims to offer 93 per cent coverage nationally, while Telus says its 1X network reaches 85 per cent of Canada’s population.

Chris Langdon, director of product marketing for Telus in Vancouver, says he sympathizes with IT departments concerned about having to support multiple devices across multiple networks. That’s where the benefit of 1X comes to light, he says.

“”We tell our clients to leverage their current technologies,”” Langdon says. “”That’s the positive message the industry needs to bring: your same infrastructure can be leveraged.””

Neale says his company is constantly adding new applications aimed at specific verticals. He and Crowe agree there’s a need to inform those target users of the services available to them.

“”The challenge for the industry is ensure these applications are obvious to their target groups,”” he says. “”It’s really about education. Folks can see the benefits of how these applications work. It’s just getting them to that stage.””

Crowe says the price difference between wired and wireless networks is another hurdle for the telecommunications industry to address. “”The performance of 1x or GPRS against wired networks is not impressive,”” he says. Both technologies displace voice users to offer bandwidth to data users. That could cause bandwidth issues down the line.

Crowe empathizes with IT departments and enterprises that are uncertain where to invest their mobile resources.

“”Companies are faced with having many different data protocols to support,”” he says. People are now comfortable with 802.11b, but other 802.11 specifications are emerging and threaten to make some equipment obsolete.

Bell Mobility partnered with Telus on the 1X initiative in rural regions, but the telecom giant also boasts its own 1X network. Stephen Parry, senior manager, channel management for Bell in Mississauga, Ont., says general questions surrounding the transmission rates of data/voice networks should be put to rest. He says he’s performed FTP transfers and downloaded MP3 files in crowded convention halls with burst rates of 50 to 60 kbps.

“”The net benefit with our network is we’re not stuck on a fixed highway speed,”” he says. The caveat, though, is it can’t provide the 88 kbps average burst speed in a metropolitan area at peak times, he says.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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