Lately, the talk in the mobile computing space has centered on companies who are merging and emerging newer, faster technologies for a richer mobile media experience. Cingular’s merging with AT&T Wireless was big in terms of expanding the US GSM data coverage, but it also enabled Cingular to take a few large steps forward with third generation (or 3G) networks. GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) technologies such as EDGE (Enhanced Data for Global Evolution) and UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) have been pushed into a half dozen markets by AT&T Wireless, allowing Cingular to move faster in offering those faster services to their customers.
On the other side of the US wireless coin, there is Verizon and Sprint which use the CDMA (Code-Division Multiple Access) network to give users speedy data accessibility and voice coverage. Thanks to some innovative marketing and unparalleled testing, Verizon has some of the best coverage of any wireless provider in the US. They have, however, a long and rigorous testing process that usually leaves their handsets a generation behind the bleeding edge of Sprint.
Note: as of this writing, Sprint and Nextel have agreed to merge, forming Sprint Nextel. The resulting company will use the 3G CDMA network. Though there has been a stock exchange, the merger still has to be approved by the FCC (expected in early 2006).
Both Sprint and Verizon are working to bring forth CDMA2000 systems that will handle three times that data that current systems handle. Verizon is upgrading to a system called 1xEV-DO that will be capable of data rates as high as 500 kbps. Sprint will be upgrading their network to 1xRTT, which is capable of up to 144 kbps.
All of those numbers and technologies mean nothing to the average person. Most people who are in the market for a data plan for their PDA, mobile phone, notebook or Tablet PC know that they will have to spend big bucks to get high speed data access anywhere that they go. Here is a breakdown of some of the vendors and how your wireless PDA or laptop will be able to connect to the web.
Connecting via WiFi
WiFi is the most popular wireless connectivity option that comes standard on many PDAs and nearly any laptop that you can find. T-Mobile and AT&T Wireless offer pay as you go hotspots in many airports, restaurants, and community parks. Using a PDA such as the Dell Axim X30 High, one can connect to a mobile hotspot for as low as $5 per session. Many places even offer monthly contracts, so that if you frequent a particular place, you will be able to use that as a virtual desk. T-Mobile is the largest paid service in the US, offering unlimited data plans for $40/month, less if you are a mobile subscriber. Starbucks, Delta’s Crown Rooms and Borders Books are some of their claims to fame.
Connecting via Bluetooth
Bluetooth is a newer connectivity option that allows a person to connect a laptop or PDA to a mobile phone for data access. All GSM mobile phone companies offer Bluetooth phones and ample (if not expensive) data plans so that you would be able to use that new Dell Inspiron 600m and your Motorola Razor to get online while you are traveling down the road to dinner with the parents. Finally all mobile companies offer at least one Bluetooth phone, but on a few networks, the pickings will be thin. Bluetooth via mobile phone will let you get online anywhere, but speed is sacrificed.
Connecting via a PC Card
Another option that laptop owners have is using a PC card to connect to wireless networks. PC cards use the same wireless networks as mobile phones, but are able to access them at higher speeds than phones usually can. They range in price from $100 to $200, depending on the service provider and length of plan subscribed to. The accompanying data plans, however, can be quite expensive as wireless operators use these PC card solutions as major sources of income from their business customers. T-Mobile charges $40/month for unlimited data, but their card is much slower than Verizon’s for instance, but they charge $80/month for their unlimited plan. This service doesn’t get discounted very often, so selecting a carrier based on your phone service provider probably isn’t important. In some cases, like T-Mobile, you won’t even get a consolidated bill. Like Bluetooth these cards offer access anywhere you have phone coverage, with speeds and reliability better than Bluetooth, but much slower than broadband over WiFi.
The name of the day is wireless. Everyday, there is another company looking to take advantage of the many people who have yet to experience wireless nirvana. Whether it is a PDA that has four types of wireless technologies built in (such as the HP iPaq h6310 that has GSM/GRPS, wifi, Bluetooth, and infrared), or the announcement that airplanes in the US will allow people to go wireless in the air, wireless accessibility is here to stay. To get on the bandwagon, all you have to do is decide on the wireless technologies that suit you best. Then, you will be able to video stream that fruitcake this year to grandma, instead of subjecting her to actually eating it.