Call it the end of downtime -- all those offline hours wasted in useless conference sessions or at the airport -- and the start of rich applications accessible virtually anywhere. Whether your preferred device is a handheld or a notebook, in a year or so 3G networks will effectively reinvent how your mobile enterprise conducts business.
Say, for example, you’re at a client site and suddenly discover that you need more details on a consulting project. No problem. You’ll turn on your device and connect to the corporate servers that run your enterprise apps. You’ll be able to check e-mail and to participate in workgroup projects as if you were at your office. Colleagues may not even know you’re off-site because you’ll be doing your normal work in the normal way.
That has been the big promise of 3G cellular networks -- one that has gone unrealized for half a decade, as cellular carriers postponed deployments and instead rolled out low-speed (30Kbps to 70Kbps) 2.5G networks, which even dial-up modem connections can outrun. “You can’t run rich applications” on 2.5G networks, concedes Kenny Wyatt, assistant vice president of integrated solutions at Sprint PCS.
But this year, carriers are finally starting to make good on their word. The first parts of real 3G networks are already here, offering throughputs between 200Kbps and 400Kbps -- equivalent to the early DSL networks that revolutionized the home office. Verizon Wireless has deployed the CDMA2000 1xEvDO (evolution, data optimized) technology in no fewer than 15 urban areas and plans to make the service available nationwide by 2007. Sprint PCS promises to start offering its own EvDO service this fall in a handful of cities before expanding nationally. Cingular Wireless now offers in six cities the UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) service it inherited from AT&T Wireless and plans to roll out a faster HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) service later this year. T-Mobile plans to start deploying HSDPA in 2006.
After carriers have completed their rollouts, 3G should be available broadly enough -- and with enough user capacity -- for enterpises to rely on it. Between now and then, however, businesses will have to decide whether the available coverage and capacity will be sufficient for their needs. Given the wireless industry’s history of overstated claims for earlier-generation data services and its tendency to focus on consumer applications such as downloadable ring tones and camera phones, the question remains whether the carriers will truly follow through on their 3G promises, says Phil Smith, vice president of global solution marketing at IT consultancy Unisys.
EvDO is the 3G technology for CDMA-based networks, such as those used by Verizon and Sprint. UMTS and HSDPA are the 3G technology for GSM-based networks, used by Cingular and T-Mobile. All-you-can-eat service costs approximately $80 per month and typically includes access to 2.5G networks -- CDMA2000 1xRTT (Radio Transmission Technology) for CDMA users and GPRS and EDGE (Enhanced Data GSM Environment) for GSM users -- to ensure connectivity when users move outside 3G coverage areas.
Although 3G has the potential to revolutionize notebook users’ productivity on the road, its benefit for handheld users is less clear, at least in the near term.
Notebook users: Take your office with you