by May 4, 2006 0 comments



The picture that traditionally comes to mind when you hear
the word ‘mobility’ with reference to the enterprise is an executive working
on a laptop, over wireless. This is not what the case and we brought it out last
month in our story on strategies in enterprise mobility, in which we defined two
kinds of mobile users-the road warrior and the roaming user-and discussed
what each of them should be able to do. This time, we take that line of thought
further and examine the actual technologies that make it possible for roaming
users and road warriors to exist and be productive. We have a lot happening in
this area, with all aspects of being ‘mobile’ progressing rapidly. At the
same time, a lot of tech has matured and its implementations are on the
rise-but are any changes coming in, because of such trends? Before we step
into the details of each technology, let’s quickly take a bird’s eye view of
what’s currently hot and what will be there in the near future.

What’s hot?
We have new fundamentals in security with the 802.11i (WPA2), then we have
proposals that want to speed up Bluetooth transmissions, add more punch to
wireless in the form of the much talked about WiMAX and enable multimedia (WiMEDIA).
WiMAX today is more or less a matured technology. The standards that enable
WiMAX are well understood. The reason it is still in the news is because of the
number of WiMAX deployments that are happening with implementors considering
metro-wide wireless connectivity using it. The third generation of wireless
communications (3G) has yet to take off in our country; but already there are
talks of the fourth generation wireless (4G) doing the rounds, with an
implementation time frame of the next 10 to 15 years.  The much talked
about high-throughput wireless standard-802.11n-may be finally on its way
with the drafts being in the ballot stage as of February. It still remains to be
seen what will happen to the pre-N products already out. Also, undergoing
improvements are the devices themselves in the form of speed and responsiveness.
Handhelds and notebook computers are also improving in data storage reliability
with the inclusion of physical protective technologies like motion-sensitive
drive arms, shock absorbers and the like.

What’s around the corner?
The race for higher bandwidth everywhere is sure hotting up in all forms of
wireless: with the WiMAX and Ns of the computer world and the 3rd and 4th
generations of the cellular world. What is really needed on  ground next,
are the devices that need and can process information at this rate.

What is also needed, are applications for the high
throughput, robust wireless networks of tomorrow. Sure, we have IPTV, VoIP and
high-speed wireless Internet access on the move (100 Mbps in a car traveling 80
mph did they say?). But what else can you do

with it? Not everyone is going to be watching IPTV or making remote conferencing
calls from a cellphone.

But if your device has the technology, you would want to do
something more with it. According to atleast one leading wireless products
vendor, the major ‘high’ wireless technologies (like 802.11n) that are
streaming in today are only fit to be used at the

backbone infrastructure level and not really at the end user’s terminal.

We also look forward to standardization of what
‘mobile’ means. Today, that much bandied about phrase can mean anything from
a notebook computer to a cellular phone to a PDA. This may lend itself very well
to the implementation of ubiquitous computing, but where does that lead
developers of mobile applications? There is no one standardized way to write
applications that will work equally well on each of these devices. Nor is there
much of an interoperability between applications written for different
vendor-platforms. Especially in the field of handheld computing, the buyer is
locked down to applications written for the vendor of his device. Sure there are
platform-abstracting platforms (Java and .NET for instance), but even with
those, factors like screen sizes,  different types of interface elements
(buttons and joysticks and so forth) can demand a lot of dynamic reconfiguring
of the application before it can be used properly by a user.

Mobility therefore is a happening area, with lots of new
technologies entering the landscape and existing ones maturing very quickly and
moving into the production phases. How many will finally be successful

remains to be seen. But atleast we can prepare ourselves by knowing about them.
Let’s dive right in.


Wireless technologies
Everything from the IEEE standards (802.11n, 802.11i) through UWB,
WPA2, 4G, 3GPP, WiMedia, wireless switches to mobile VoIP are here and making
waves. So, those who say it’s buzz need to change their definitions.

Metroscale WiFi with WiMAX
WiFi is growing from just being hotspots endemic to a small area to becoming
metroscale WiFi that would blanket the dimensions of an entire city. The
technology behind metro-scale Wi-Fi is of course WiMAX, with its range of about
50 Kms and a bandwidth of 75 Mbps (over regular 802.11a/b/g with a maximum of 54
Mbps). Metro-sized Wi-Fi networks would offer cellular-like connectivity at a
higher speed and bandwidth. Chipmaker Intel is working on several projects with
Indian ISPs like BSNL, Reliance, AirTel and Navini Networks to set up public
Internet hotspots throughout the country. ISP Sify is also considering similar
WiMAX projects.

IMS marries 3G
With the merger of two successful paradigms in communications-IMS (IP
Multimedia Subsystems) and 3G-you will be able to access Internet for
Web-pages of your choice, participate in video conferences, watch a movie nearly
anywhere by just pulling out a 3G hand-held device from your pocket. The
services associated with 3G provide the ability to transfer both voice data (a
telephone call) and non-voice data. One of the killer applications of 3G is
video telephony. With the next generation 3G devices, you can achieve data
transfer rates of upto 3 Mbps. Some telecom providers in

India


have already initiated their efforts in offering services using this
technology. 

IMS is a VoIP implementation based on a 3GPP implementation
of SIP that runs over standard IP networks. Its use of regular IP for
communication makes it useful for use over both voice and Internet networks. The
current version of IMS supports GSM, GPRS, fixed and mobile circuits, including
WLANs. Eventually, it is aimed to make IMS work with almost any networking
technology in existence including DSL and cable networks.

Wireless
Standards-Shooting exponentially

The crop of Wi-Fi
standards has seen an exponential rise in recent times. Following are the
latest entries to this burgeoning list.

802.11e: This
IEEE standard belongs to the WLAN cadre, and is aimed at improving audio
and video streaming over Wi-Fi networks.

WMM: Also called
Wi-Fi Multimedia specification, is a subset of IEEE 802.11e. It is a
wireless QoS standard suitable for both corporate and consumer
applications, and works with 802.11a/b/g.

802.11i: Better
known as WPA2, it the second  generation
WiFi security standard after WPA. It offers better security than WPA or
WEP since it combines the power of both TKIP and AES for data encryption.
For more on this, refer to our separate article on WPA2 elsewhere in this
issue

802.11n: The
next-generation wireless applications would need higher data throughput.
And that’s what 802.11n claims to offer-speeds up to 600 Mbps. With
such high-speeds, it is capable of supporting applications that require
high data rates like transmitting multiple HDTV streams. There are many
claims that 802.11i will support handhelds, personal computing, and other
electronics across all enterprise and
SOHO

environments. But it is expected that such high bandwidths may not be
required by at the enterprise end-user level. Instead it might be useful
in creating a backbone infrastructure for a high speed MAN; as an option
for last-mile connectivity; or may be as the next big thing replacing
WiMAX.

To 4G
3G devices have already seen the light of the day in countries like

Japan


, US. And now, there is 4G on the cards. 4G technology stands to be the future
standard of Wi-Fi devices. The Japanese company NTT DoCoMo is testing 4G
communication at 100 Mbps (moving) and 1 Gbps (stationary). 4G may use OFDM
(Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing), and also OFDMA (Orthogonal
Frequency Division Multiple Access) to better allocate network resources to
multiple users. 4G devices may use SDR (Software-Defined Radio) receivers that
allows better use of available bandwidth and the use of multiple channels
simultaneously.

Internet telephony over mobiles
Leave your network and swoosh….goes your Internet! This is what most
mobile executives face today. Internet Telephony over mobiles or Mobile IP, is a
scalable mechanism that allows organizations to offer their customers seamless
roaming among wireless networks anywhere.

It supports applications such as IP telephony, media
streaming and VPN without interrupting service when you roam. The market already
has Skype offering VoIP with Wi-Fi enabled smartphones. The Nokia 6136 uses UMA
(Unlicensed Mobile Access) technology to provide access to GSM services over
unlicensed spectrum technologies like WLAN and Bluetooth.  More such
solutions are on the way in the next few years for those who use any cellphone
with

Internet capabilities.

How it operates
A mobile IP network comprises a mobile node, a home and foreign agent
(optional) besides the Internet. When a device leaves a network to enter a new
one, the home agent taps the data signals and tunnels it through a temporary IP
address to the target network. The foreign agent or the network itself unpacks
and forwards data packets to the mobile node.

Wireless
Standards-Shooting exponentially

Single Signon-
Felicity with FeLiCa

A multi-use, multi-application technology from Sony, FeLiCa uses
contactless-ICs to transfer information in its memory to a compatible
device that can read or write information to it. This can be used with
everyday gadgets like smart cards, cellphones and wrist watches. Common
uses of such devices are to dispense mobile money. However, it can be used
to provide access control and ID services as well.

How it works
This smart card technology is IEC 15408 EAL4 certified, making it usable
in high security zones as well. FeLiCa uses a 13.56 MHz electromagnetic
signal to communicate with the reader/writer at 212 Kbps. There is no
requirement for a sub-carrier to multiplex or piggyback the signal to
other frequencies. Transactions between the IC and the reader/writer are
carried out in 100 msec. Communications between the two devices are
encrypted using dynamically generated keys. The IC uses a filing system
that uses a single smart card  for
multiple independent applications. Access keys protect each
application’s data on the IC from cross-access. But you could program a
system to read credit information and credentials to provide access to
some service (like ticketing).

The Indian angle
It is used by

Delhi


‘s metro rail for smart ticketing as coin-shaped tokens valid for a
single journey, and a ‘Travel Card’ rechargeable with mobile

money.

Hardware
Mobile computing devices are undergoing continuous and fascinating
changes, and becoming smaller, sleeker, more powerful and capacious. Gone are
the days when a handheld came with a few KB of RAM and ran simplistic personal
organizer applications. While these still exist today, at the other end, they
can do almost everything that your PC can and use a CPU more powerful than the
one in your workstation, and use a fraction of the power. They also provide
features we take for granted (like instant-on).

For notebooks
Two key platforms have emerged for notebooks-the Intel Centrino and
AMD’s Turion. Neither of them are ‘CPU’s. They are platforms. They consist
of the chipset, wireless subsystem and main processor used in a notebook, along
with being energy efficient. As far as the Centrino is concerned, the exact
specifications of the model numbers and combinations acceptable are specified.
This specification has changed over the years since its first introduction, with
the introduction of the Montara,

Sonoma


and

Napa


(dual core) platforms in successive years. The Montara was the first Centrino,
from 2003 to 2005. It used the Pentium M with the Intel 855 chipset and the
Intel PRO/Wireless 2100AB. Then came the

Sonoma


(Pentium M 133/533 MHz), the Intel Mobile 915 Express chipset motherboard and
the PRO/Wireless 2200 or 2915 wireless capability. Compared to the original
Montara platform, the Sonoma Centrino has poorer battery life, because of the
power hungry PCI Express and fast Pentium M CPUs.

The

Napa


platform (dual core) is the latest in the series and it introduces the
‘Centrino Duo’ label from January 2006 and uses the new Yonah processor with
the 945 Express and Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG. Instead of the SpeedStep power
management system, the newer spec uses ‘Enhanced Deeper Sleep’ mode with
‘Dynamic Power Coordination’ (jargon for the separated performance and
battery configuration in the new Centrino). Graphics is with Intel GMA 950.
Intel’s CPU line up for dual core two models: the T and the L series. The T
series is for the mainstream notebooks and the L series will address the
voltage-sensitive ultra light notebook range. Turion 64 is the AMD version of
the power-saving platform for the notebook computer. It is a 64-bit platform
using the Socket 754 motherboard.
Battery

efficiency comes in the form of AMD’s PowerNow! with Cooln’Quiet. The dual
core edition of the Turion is called the Turion 64 X2. AMD’s PowerNow!
technology is used in their K6-2+, K6-III+, Athlon and Opteron range of mobile
CPUs to automatically reduce processor speed and power consumption to match
actual demands in order to save electrical power (similar to Intel’s SpeedStep
and ‘Dynamic Power Coordination’ technologies). Cooln’Quiet was introduced
for the Athlon 64 along the same lines as PowerNow!, and is meant for desktop
systems.

This, in combination with other power-saving technologies
like Deeper Sleep lets the user run more applications at optimized power levels
saving battery life while enjoying powerful applications at their fingertips.
These new CPUs also feature various levels of virus protection by locking up the
‘data’ areas of the in-processor memory from unauthorized execution. This is
called ‘Enhanced Virus Protection’ by AMD and ‘XD’ (Execute Disable Bit)
by Intel. 

Nostalgia-
10 years of the Palm

This year, we celebrate
the 10th anniversary of the world’s first PDA, the ‘Pilot 1000’. It
sported a square mono-LCD display of 160px and had 128 KB RAM. Powered by
the m68328 CPU, this first-gen PDA had no backlight and no wireless (not
even infrared!). You had to use a serial port for syncing with a PC. The
Palm 1000 is a very distant cousin of the Treo 650 in popular use today!

Ultra portables
These are almost PDA size computers that feature the full range of computing
experience, along with ‘anytime anywhere’ connectivity using wireless and
Bluetooth. Like the PDA, these portables bundle a selection of productivity,
entertainment, communication and messaging and PIM software. Various vendors
have products in this category: Intel (UMPC), MS (‘Origami’), Fujitsu,
Samsung and ASUS.

Samsung’s UMPC offers broadband and multimedia over high-speed wireless 

Mobile SATA 
Why shouldn’t notebook computers take advantage of SATA technology? Hard
drive manufacturers now have SATA and SATA-II drives out in the market that can
let you have hardware RAID on your notebooks utilizing the SATA 
adapter’s native RAID features. While these hard disks are available in the
standard sizes of 40-80 GB, high end versions that top 200 GB are available too,
at speeds of 7,200 rpm. Such hard disks give you the power and performance of a
RAID-protected storage, letting you enjoy better performance of data and
applications. You can also trust more data to the notebook’s storage without
worrying about recovering data from the hard drive later.

ARM, StrongARM and XScale
The ARM architecture is a 32-bit RISC based processor designed for all kinds
of portable devices, including cellphones, PDAs and other computing devices.
It’s also the preferred CPU used in the embedded space. It has come a long way
from the initial Acorn processor of the 1980s and the StrongARM that DEC created
out of it and handed over to Intel who now call it the XScale. XScale CPU has
five editions, depending on where and why it is used. The cellular family is
used in cellphones and handhelds, while the Control Plane family is used in
media gateways, VoIP switches and networking equipment. The I/O and network
families take up the corresponding operations from the main CPU, clearing
performance bottlenecks.  These CPUs deliver 500 to 800 Mhz of speed with a
64-bit bus width. These processors can handle 1 to 2 GB (even DDRII) RAM.

Notebooks like this Panasonic ToughBook can withstand a lot of punishment including people standing on it

i.MX and ColdFire
This family of processors designed for low-power (electrical) devices that
require fast processing and are designed to deliver mobile multimedia
performance (such as MPEG4 playback via wireless) along with spare processing
power for other applications. The i.MX applications processor family is used in
video and voice over IP (V2IP), media centers, handheld gaming devices. This CPU
supports the OpenPDA platform and can run both Linux and Windows Mobile OSs.
With graphics chipmaker NVIDIA, Freescale has put out reference designs that use
the NVIDIA GoForce 3D 4500 wireless media processor. This lets users of future
devices experience lifelike graphics and gaming. This generation of the i.MX
also features an ‘enhanced multimedia accelerator with provides simultaneous
MPEG4 and H.263 processing. The ColdFire family on the other hand is a
variable-length RISC 68K processor that’s meant for price-conscious embedded
systems. In ColdFire, CPU

instructions are processed in a single cyle giving its users the ability to
lower system costs because of lower requirements for memory and on-bus
bandwidth.

Notebooks for rally racing 
Notebooks meant for really road-warrior usage come with electronic motion
sensors that automatically park drive heads when there is sudden violent motion,
rubber shock absorbers safeguard critical system components even when the
notebook is switched off, and armor

(in the form of hardened skeletons and frames made of magnesium alloys.

Users of these systems can also take advantage of longer
battery life (of upto 10 hours), and the facility to add additional batteries.
At the same time, these notebooks are slim and light in weight. Typical
notebooks sold in the market however have typical battery lives of two to three
hours on average.

Aftermath-The Pen is Mightier

Digital Bluetooth pens let you write or draw on any material to ‘scan’ it. This can be used to quickly transfer information from oblique media like pottery, paintings or other objects that cannot be subject to a common page scanner. Models are available from Nokia (called the Nokia Digital Pen, has Bluetooth and MMS capabilities) and Logitech io (uses USB not Bluetooth and requires connectivity to other devices for processing scanned data). These ‘pens’ can scan entire A4-sized pages in around 4-5 seconds and store about a 100 such pages in memory. Pens like the one from Nokia may feature MMS capabilities; so you can avoid needing a separate Bluetooth-compatible computer to process the data. In the latest paper leak scandal that rocked the All-India PostGraduate Medical Entrance Examination conducted by AIIMS, the perpetrators used a similar device. This is unfortunately a negative use of such a useful technology. When positively used, they can be used by executives to quickly collect samples and input survey data.


Software technologies
So you have the mobile devices and the wireless networking that lets
you be connected wherever you are. But without the software that can let you do
all this, you are missing the ice-cream in the cone. Software for the mobile
arguably faces some of the worst challenges in their implementation. They suffer
from a general lack of standards across the board. And its applications can make
no reasonable assumptions about network quality or availability.

Yet, this is a platform that provides one of the most
robust and powerful computing platforms among those in existence today. In this
part, let’s look at what’s available and what they let you achieve. We also
ponder on how it could all be better. As with the rest of this story, when we
talk of ‘mobiles’, we include notebooks, subnotebooks, handhelds, PDAs and
smart phones. Do note that while we may mention some products by name below, we
are not specifically recommending them, these are to be used solely as a
reference as to what is available in the market.

Key technologies

OMA-DS: Data synchronization technology that can let your administrators audit and configure mobile devices remotely. This is the latest avtaar of the SyncML standard


Centrino Duo: The new Centrino platform based on the dual core Napa processor family and the 945 Express chipset and PRO/Wireless 3945ABG adapter

Mobile SATA: Enjoy the performance and reliability of SATA-II with RAID on your notebook, putting more data at your finger tips

WiMAX: Speeds of 75 Mbps and and range of 50 kms to connect wirelessly across the
city

802.11n: The latest ratified wireless standards set to enable speeds in excess of 100 Mbps

General productivity
Just like for the PC, the mobile user can take

advantage of a rich variety of productivity software,

including word processors, spreadsheets, email, instant messengers and
collaboration software, databases, personal information managers, compression
software, tools that let you sync your device with another computer and lately,
tools that encrypt and decrypt your communications over wireless and Bluetooth.

The Opera Mini is an enterprise-friendly browser designed for handhelds, optimized for small screen rendering with support for cHTML and WAP

Of all these, the most visible segment on the Web (atleast)
are the PIMs and calendars. The most essential of this class of software is
already shipped bundled with the product.

Audit and control 
Formerly known as ‘SyncML’, OMA-DS is a standard that lets mobile
devices exchange information among themselves to stay in sync with each other.
OMA-DS stands for ‘Open Mobile Alliance for Data Synchronization and Device
Management’ and has now transitioned into an open vendor-independent standard.
The most common use of OMA-DS is in synching calendar information, but can be
put to a variety of uses like push e-mail, backing up data onto other computers
and project and task coordination. SyncML has various spin-off implementations
in the form of Multisync, WebDAV and ICE.  Vendors of devices supporting
SyncML implementations also provide SDKs that let developers build applications
to take advantage of these capabilities. For the enterprise, OMA-DS provides a
way to manage mobile devices in the campus. For instance, solutions like
Synchronica’s MobileManager allow you to manage all the smart phones being
used in your enterprise’s range. Just like you would roll out fixes and
updates, manage inventory and perform security and other auditing on your PCs
and notebooks, this software lets you do the same for smart phones that
executives are carrying around-all without necessitating them to bring it in,
dock it with a computer and perform the tasks. This also lets your
administrators trace and recover data from units that may are lost or misplaced. 
Other software also add capabilities to diagnose and repair problems with the
device.

Databases
Editions of enterprise versions of software (like RDBMS, replication tools,
etc) are available for the mobile as well. For instance, Oracle has the Lite
versions of its Oracle database suite, data synchronization tools and software
and replication managers. Microsoft recently released the SQL Server Everywhere,
that’s a mobile version of its SQL Server database. IBM’s DB2 Everyplace and
ITTIA’s Fuel  are two other lightweight databases meant for the embedded
space. On resource constrained handhelds, it is useful to check beforehand what
back-ends are used by your applications.

The Palm OS
The rise in fortunes of the Palm OS began with the success of the Pilot 1000
in 1996. Today, there are two concurrent versions of the OS in active use. One
set is the Palm OS 5 and the Garnet that run on ARM processors and supports a
variety of networking options as well as display resolutions. The next
generation, called the Cobalt (v 6.1) will add the ability to have separate
functionality on the handheld for the enterprise. This new OS will also add new
networking options like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to the palmtop. In December 2005,
Palm OS was announced to become Linux-based. This new platform is targeted
mainly at the high performance 2.5 and 3 G network. This would let the Palm OS
incorporate features like commercial-grade Linux with the 2.6.12 kernel, the
GIMP/GTK+ toolkit, the GStreamer multimedia streaming framework and the compact
SQLite database platform in the handheld. In addition, a number of PalmSource
components such as browser, telephony and messaging clients and personal mobile
productivity apps (PIMs, etc) are included.

Beyond the Horizon-The digital foursome

Earlier constrained to
three vertices of the telephony triangle, the service now bundles another
hand in the form of wireless. So the center of attraction now is quadruple
play than triple play. This way the cable companies will be able to offer
wireless services and also package those services with high-speed Internet
access, VoIP and television offerings.

Quadruple play of
services will make it easier for the customers as they get a one-stop shop
solution from the cable operators only. While it will be a step ahead in
terms of the technology, the telecom companies might face competition as
cable operators gain the limelight with wireless telecom. Analysts say the
strategy could accelerate the emergence of new services and the growth of
mobile TV.

While at some places,
cable operators and wireless service offering companies have already
joined hands to offer these services. With its kind of potential,
quadruple play can even offer a converged wireline-wireless voice mailbox,
access to unique video content and the ability to remotely control digital
video recorders, or DVRs.

Summing up
As vendors and standards bodies battle it out to bring us faster
connectivity, better security on the move and devices that belt out better and
faster applications, the landscape of mobile computing is changing at a hectic
pace. This is one of the areas of IT which production-scale implementers should
wait and watch, while there are always products in the market for early adopters
who wish to experiment.

Rinku Tyagi and Sujay V Sarma

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