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Wireless Handheld
Volume 1, Issue 9

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Handheld Devices and
the Wireless Internet

There is no industry as complex or as difficult to follow as the handheld wireless Internet market. There is also no other industry that will have as great an impact on our future.

Because of its complexity, North Americans and Europeans seem to know very little about handhelds, and the wireless infrastructure needed to support them.

In a market survey released in June by Taylor Nelson Sofres Telecoms, it was reported that nine out of 10, or 89 percent of mobile phone or Internet users in the US were "unaware or felt "poorly informed" about wireless Internet technology. The numbers were slightly less in Europe with eight out of 10.

The ultimate vision of the wireless Internet means having your car, your house and any other device you own connected to the Internet. It means being able to connect to unlimited services instantaneously from anywhere and any place. The vision is endless and the battle for the market has been raging for sometime.

To give you an idea of just how sophisticated our wireless world will become, the BBC reported in April that Hans Snook, former boss of the UK's Orange phone network was working with the Royal College of Art to design a t-shirt that would be able to monitor a patient's vital signs to inform doctors and health workers when someone was at risk.

Two of the most sophisticated handheld Internet devices on the market today are Research In Motion's BlackBerry and NTT DoCoMo's i-mode. The handheld devices exist in different parts of the world, they use different technologies and cater to different markets. The one common denominator is that the main reason people buy their products is so they can access email.

The main technological difference between the two products is that the i-mode started as a cell phone and is voice driven, and the BlackBerry started as a handheld information device and is text based or data driven. The i-mode is popular with Japanese teenagers and is entertainment focused while the BlackBerry is popular with the corporate world and is business focused.

Paul Mulligan of emarketer reported in March that in Japan "in the space of just two years, i-mode has seen its user base jump to more than 20 million, spurred in part by frenzied interest among teenagers."

Emarketer reported, "that 42% of Japanese Internet users ages 15-19 use i-mode for email, 37% for voicemail and 21% for Web access. Of Japanese users 40-44 years old, 44% use i-mode for voicemail, 31% for email and 25% for Web access."

Writing for ZDNet Asia in June, Anand Menon quoted NTT DoCoMo executive director Takeshi Natsuno as saying, "The increasing subscriber base for i-mode shows that wireless Internet access is a 'must have' application for mobile users....It (wireless Internet) is not an additional application to voice anymore. It's as important as voice application."

Reuters reported in June that in the United States, nearly 10,000 businesses had installed Research In Motion's(RIM) software on office computers. RIM's BlackBerry handheld pager is "always on and always connected" so corporate users wearing the pager are beeped at home when an email comes into their office computer. The handheld device is likewise synchronized with the office computer so that an email sent from the handheld BlackBerry shows up in the sent mail of the office computer.

Appointments are also scheduled from the RIM handheld pager and the office appointment calendar is updated automatically.

The security aspect of the RIM pager has also made it popular. Because of the connection with the office server, the RIM system offers end to end security, which is lacking in other handheld email devices.

The system is so secure that in February RIM reported that the BlackBerry pager would be providing secure wireless email access to the U.S. Government's Defense Message System (DMS).

In June Vodafone and Microsoft said they would also launch a corporate e-mail forwarding service using WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), which comes as a standard feature on most new mobile phones.

Reuters reported that RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie played down the announcement. "Balsillie said WAP's problems with security and ease of use are still big issues that will stop corporate IT departments from opening up their firewalls."

From all reports the handheld i-mode isn't considered secure. In June Michelle Delio of Wired News reported that i-mode Internet enabled cell phones in Japan had begun calling the country's police and fire departments for emergency help.

A security hole in the software of many cell phones used with the DoCoMo service allowed a hacker to create a tiny string of code that was capable of directing the cell phone's "Call" and "Mail" functions. The code was embedded directly into the text of the e-mail and did not arrive as an attachment.

It was not the first time i-mode enabled cell phones had been infected. Delio reported that American freelance journalist James Hardy who was working in Tokyo said that 'In July 2000, thousands of i-mode users also received e-mails which were coded to force their phones to dial "110...This led to some students being questioned by the police for making false calls to the emergency police and fire number. One student was even arrested. Finally the matter was cleared up, but it took until August for the problem to die down entirely."'

According to Akos Horvath the BlackBerry pager was designed as an information device, "not a cell phone with added features. People expect a cell phone to be a cell phone, which limits the extent to which cell phone manufacturers can modify their design....The key to the BlackBerry's success is that it has a great design... Its design suits its intended use."

Horvath, who is now a Software Developer at, is a former RIM programmer who worked on the original BlackBerry handheld pager.

Horvath added, "If you have ever tried to surf a Web page on a cell phone, you know how difficult it can be to navigate, and especially to input text. The BlackBerry pager is designed specifically for email and Internet use."

RIM has a patent on the BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard which lets users type between 20-30 words a minute. This gives the BlackBerry handheld pager an advantage over cell phones and other devices like the Palm and Handspring. "The BlackBerry also has a built in antenna and does not require add-ons to send and receive messages or to access Web pages," Horvath said.

He added, "Putting streaming video or audio on a 3G BlackBerry pager seems like the 'next logical step.' On the other hand, putting streaming video or audio on a cell phone is nice, but could someone first give me a bigger screen, longer battery life, and maybe a QWERTY keyboard so I can enjoy this stuff?"

Horvath said, "once 3G is fully rolled out, the bandwidth won't be the deciding factor, the ease of use of the handheld device will be, and I believe that the BlackBerry is well suited to the types of services 3G will make possible."

3G is a new radio technology that allows mobile handheld devices to access Internet based services at faster speeds. By doing so it allows for streaming media, which is listening to music or watching things like movie trailers over the Internet on your mobile.

According to the 3Gnewsroom if you were downloading a 3-minute MP3 song on your handheld device using 3G, you could do it in between 11 seconds to 1.5 minutes. Most wireless devices today use 2G, which would take 31 to 41 minutes to download the same song. Some wireless handhelds use 2.5G, which would take 6 to 9 minutes to download the song.

Most of the world's wireless service providers are currently using 2G, which is GSM (Global System for Mobile).

"Hundreds of companies ranging from start-ups to technology giants such as Motorola and Microsoft are expected to unveil a slew of 2.5G and 3G products and services, from cell phones to combination devices to software," Reuters reported in March.

In May RIM announced an alliance with Lucent wireless networks to accelerate the commercialization of 3G using Lucent wireless networks with RIM's products and services.

The BlackBerry pager began operating using GPRS (2.5G) in December in Canada through Microcell Connexions Inc. In June it was announced that the BlackBerry was operating on BT Cellnet's GPRS (2.5G) in the UK and in late July would be introducing the handheld device on GPRS(2.5G) in Italy through DADA.

Menon reported that DoCoMo was on track to launch its commercial third generation (3G) service in October for its i-mode cell phone. The trial version of the "FOMA" service was launched in May in Japan making it one of the first 3G services in the world.

Meanwhile, Horvath's observation, that cell phones would be limited in their ability to accommodate the new features of 3G, is not unfounded.

According to Menon "NTT DoCoMo shelved plans for a commercial service in May, citing software glitches and a need for testing as reasons for the delay."

User feedback on DoCoMo's 3G trial in Japan was posted on CNET in late July. Benjk writes, "there is more and more feedback from users of DoCoMo's 3G trial here in Japan. The problems appear to be numerous and major.

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RIM BlackBerry Pager Mobile Device

Mostly, 3G handsets and handset software are reported bug ridden and failing or bad in design. Visibility of screens, battery life, and user interface features are often coming up as major issues...."

He further stated the maximum speed they were getting with the 3G technology on their cell phones was a 64K transfer. Japan users had already been getting that speed with 2.5G and were getting higher speeds of 128K with another type of network already existing in Japan called PHS.

He further reported, "But watching a Planet of The Apes trailer on my cell phone was pretty damn cool. Battery died after watching about 5 minutes of video, though."

When asked how he thought the BlackBerry pager would handle a movie trailer Horvath said, "it would depend on how many colors the display had, how long the movie was, what kind of coverage you had, signal strength etc. So it's hard to say for certain, but I believe that the BlackBerry handheld pager will not have any battery problems. Ever since the beginning, the goal has always been how do we increase battery life? The battery life of the RIM BlackBerry pager is amazing compared to cell phones. One reason is that it is relatively expensive to drive a speaker (from a power stand point), and cell phones beep and click every time you press a button, not to mention the constant use of the speaker while having a conversation," he said.

Meanwhile, DoCoMo is not the only cell phone maker that is having trouble with the new technology. Ben Charny of CNET reported in April that Nokia had disclosed a software problem that could affect its plans to launch "3G" technology. "Even though a repair is planned the episode has raised questions about the software acumen of wireless phone companies and the long feared problems regarding multiple communications standards, both in the United States and internationally," he said.

Charny further reported, "...some in the phone industry worry that these companies, in their rush to sell these steroid injected phones, are neglecting potentially troubling problems -- especially in the relatively unfamiliar realm of software. Already, some services have been offered prematurely, resulting in glitches and even recalls."

He quoted Jupiter Research analyst, Seamus McAteer who said that, '"There will definitely be some design issues as handsets become more complex... with aggregate growth in the wireless sector slowing and competition heating up, we may well see the slightly premature launch of new services that haven't been adequately tested in the field."'

In July Reuters reported that "Vodafone Group, the world's biggest mobile phone networks operator said the launch of its third generation (3G) Internet enabled service could be pushed to 2003 due to a potential shortage of handsets."

The BBC reported in May that mobile phone companies had paid hundreds of billions of dollars to buy the rights to operate 3G licenses in Europe and there were questions as to whether telecom companies would now be able to afford to roll out the networks.

Regan Morris of the Associated Press reported in February that analysts predict that it will cost $80 billion to upgrade Europe's existing digital phone networks to accommodate 3G.

The situation is even more complicated in the US where the industry is fragmented. Reuters reported in March that wireless service providers in the United States are not expected to roll out their first 2.5G services until later this year. True 3G services are not expected in the United States until 2006 or 2007.

In January NTT DoCoMo acquired 16 per cent ownership of AT&T Wireless. Jane O'Donaghue, a spokesperson for AT&T said it was hoped the deal would speed up the deployment of GPRS (2.5G) in the US, Steve Gold of Newsbytes reported in January.

According to Menon, Natsuno said DoCoMo was targeting 150,000 subscribers to Japan's new 3G service by the end of March next year. He expected the number of subscribers for the i-mode cell phone to hit 25 million in Japan by the end of June.

Mulligan doesn't see the same thing happening in the US. "The fact that many consumers will have the ability to go online won't mean that they actually will take to surfing the Internet over their mobile devices...."

"If the wireless Web is to take off in the US, wireless providers will have to focus their efforts on the business market instead of the consumer market. Mobile data services may be a luxury item for consumers, but for companies, these services are fast becoming an essential tool," Mulligan said.

"According to a focus group of Fortune 1,000 executives published in Wirthlin Worldwide, 84% saw their companies' needs for wireless services grow dramatically. In some cases, participants also foresaw the need for wireless devices growing by as much as 200% over the next 2 years," Mulligan reported.

Cultural differences have also been cited as reasons why the i-mode and other cell phone mobiles devices will not be popular in the US.

Sascha Segan of wrote in January that 'Experts have said that "wired" phones are much cheaper in the U.S. than elsewhere, so there's less incentive here to get cell phones. They've also said Americans are used to the Internet on computers rather than on mobile phones, that Europe's café culture is more conducive to on-the-go communications than the U.S.'s comparatively stay at home lifestyle...

Europeans also seem to have nearly unlimited patience for typing out words on cell phone keypads. Americans find that just too hard to do, according to Forrester Research analyst Maribel Dolinov. "I don't want to have to type into this thing at all. I don't want to press the ' 8 ' key 15 times to type in a letter," she said.'

Europeans may be more patient when typing on cellphones but according to Horvath, they also enjoy the convenience of the BlackBerry pager. "Over in Europe, people have embraced the BlackBerry... They absolutely adore it. They are SMS(Short Message System) crazy, and typing on a BlackBerry pager vs. typing on a cell phone is a world of difference. The whole experience goes from difficult to fun," he said.

In June David Yach, Vice President of Software at RIM announced that the company had fully integrated J2ME as the core operating system on the next-generation of 2.5G BlackBerry handheld pagers.

Horvath said that few cell phones have released Java and even fewer support the number of API's that can be used with the BlackBerry pager. He believes that once RIM releases a faster processor, Java on the BlackBerry handheld will be a powerful force for competitors to deal with. Java provides ease of development and a shallower learning curve than conventional programming languages," he said.

Java technology also provides an industry standard programming platform so that third party applications can integrate with the built-in BlackBerry pager applications.

According to a March survey of over 500 wireless developers by Evans Data Corporation almost one-third of the developers interviewed in January 2001 will target Java technology and the J2ME platform. Following close in second place is Palm, with 24.5 percent, and Microsoft Windows CE, selected by 22.3 percent of developers.

Besides new applications being developed, Intel is working on finding a new chip for mobile memory. John Spooner of CNET reported in July that Intel was searching for the ‘"Holy Grail" of mobile memory, with a new technology that will pack hundreds of megabytes of storage into a mobile device at a low cost. A typical handheld, for example, now has 2MB to 64MB of flash memory.’

There are also various standards around the world representing the types of technology used in wireless mobile communications and trying to get a handle on it can be overwhelming.

I-mode's testing in Japan is on the W-CDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) standard of 3G. Other standards that adhere to 3G from various parts of the world include, UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System), TD-SCDMA, CDMA2000 and CMDA2000 1x.

EDGE (Enhanced Data for GSM Evolution) is identified as being between 2.5G technology and 3G. HSCSD and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) are 2.5G.

Devices like the BlackBerry and the i-mode are just the beginning of what we will see in the future wireless world. There are many other different facets of the mobile wireless industry in the development stages including m-commerce (mobile commerce), telematics (Internet mobile devices in cars), smart cards, Bluetooth and wireless LANS just to mention a few. Businesses are scrambling to become players of this brave new world and there is no question that how it ends up will determine our future for many years to come.

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