by April 12, 2005 0 comments

Rousseau said, “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.” Probably he was clueless of the power of chain-free wireless when he coined this phrase. Indeed, so much has happened in the wireless world till date, and so much more is going to happen that very soon you might be living in a world that’s completely free of wires-no strings attached (literally!).

Probably the two biggest successes of modern day wireless technologies are WiFi or wireless LANs and mobile phones. These have brought wireless technologies from their niches to the masses. But thankfully, their success has led to the development of many other new technologies, in just about every facet of life. So whether you’re at home, in office, on the road, in a restaurant, or in an airplane, rest ensured that some wireless technology will be there to keep you connected. 

For instance, when a company goes for leased-line connectivity, one of the biggest hassles is laying the last mile, because roads have to be dug up to lay the wires. What if it were to go wireless? The WiMax technology promises to make this possible. Not only that, but the technology is also being considered for bringing wireless broadband to homes. When you’re on the road and need to check your e-mail or browse the Web, GPRS and CDMA make it possible for you. The latest upgrade to these technologies, called 3G, is being implemented to scale up the bandwidth they offer. This would make broadband on-the-move possible, resulting in many more useful applications, such as video conferencing, online collaboration, etc. 

With such top-notch wireless technologies in place, you will no longer experience dead time and be able to participate in interactive training while waiting for your flight. You will neither be tethered to the office nor have to make compulsory field trips to fetch documents. You will be able to get the required information anywhere, anytime and instantaneously answer client-queries, quote prices, update inventory and enter orders. Your efficiency will increase, as you will have easy access to specifications and database to work out solutions in time. 

Personal connectivity is another area where wireless technologies are making a mark. It started off with the concept of WPANs (Wireless PANs), which were led by the Bluetooth technology. A new version of Bluetooth is out now that provides higher throughput at lower power consumption. Another technology called WUSB (Wireless USB) has bigger plans for the WPAN, with far greater throughputs.

Imagine shooting a video with your digital camcorder and streaming it directly to your friend’s television. WUSB would provide the necessary bandwidth to do so. 

A technology innovation called ZigBee will make it possible to remotely monitor various types of sensors-for air-conditioning, lighting, smoke alarms, and many more. 

So just think of it-the weather, temperature and other information is being communicated by tiny sensors based on ZigBee, passing data over radio waves from one to another. At the end of the line, the data is picked up by hotspots created by WiMax or WiFi. In effect, most of these wireless technologies will not be islands in themselves, but will offer some interconnectivity between each other. All this will just help in creating a perfectly connected environment. All these innovations are not a shot in the dark. Work is happening on most of these technologies to bring out applications so that they really help everyone stay connected. 

Some of the technologies are already available, while others might be available towards the end of this year or the beginning of the next year. Others might take a few years before becoming a reality. Wireless electricity, for instance, is still a distant dream. 

In the pages to follow, we’ve looked at the entire gamut of wireless technologies and the applications they promise to make possible. Moreover, some of the future technologies we’ve talked of are already available in some other countries. In those cases, we’ve given a rough estimate on when they will be available in India. 

Wireless Broadband-Last Mile
One of the biggest challenges most ISPs face when providing connectivity to end- users, be they at home or the enterprise, is the Last Mile. This is the distance between the service providers’ point-of-presence and the customers’ premises. The challenge comes in the form of forming the link between the customer’s network and the ISP’s, which may require digging up of roads for laying down the cables, and the hassles of getting permissions from various govt bodies, such as the local municipal corporation and the DoT. Additionally, maintaining these cables after a period of time becomes an issue. So, wires, which are otherwise a great way of getting Internet connectivity, do pose some problems. A better way could be to have a wireless last-mile. That, in essence, is WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access). It promises to offer the same level of functionality as existing wired solutions, which range from copper based T-1, E-1, optical T-3 and SONET for the enterprise to standard Ethernet and DSL for homes and small offices.

A wireless connection has several advantages over a wired connection. It gives you ease of set up and requires lesser maintenance, especially when you are in an area where laying down wires is not an easy job. This could be a place like a congested area in a city or a remote location in a village. Along with that, a wireless connection takes lesser time to set up than a wired connection. So, for areas that do not have adequate wired network in place, wireless last-mile is a good option.

The WiMax standard (IEEE 802.16a) is an extension of Wireless MAN (Metropolitan Area Network) Air Interface standard for MAN (802.16). It was developed to operate in the high frequency band range of 10 to 66 GHz, while 802.16a will operate in lower frequency band range of 2 to 11 GHz band. The noticeable change in 802.16a is the absence of line-of-sight requirement. WiMax directional antenna can transmit signal to cellphone tower even if there is no direct line-of-sight. The signals can propagate through obstacles such as high-rise buildings, trees. 802.16a will be able to transmit signal up to 50 Km distance and offer maximum 70 Mbps data transfer to hundreds of users. Reliable transmission is achieved through forward error correction technique, and Triple-DES encryption is used for secure transmission. 

Many broadband wireless vendors are actively developing 802.16a compliant based products. Few of them are Alvarion, Aperto Networks, SR Telecom, Redline communications and Intel Huawai. Redline communications has launched AN-100U, an 802.16a compliant product which functions as a base and receiver station. Intel in association with Alvarion has plans to develop 802.16a chip and start shipping it with its Centrino branded laptops. More WiMax products will start coming
towards the end of this year.

The cost of WiMax based Internet services are expected to be higher than wired services because of possible license requirements and the need of WiMax customer equipment.

Short-range Wireless
Wireless personal area networks have been around for some time now, but they started gaining popularity only recently. So nowadays, you would find people synchronizing their PDA to their PC or laptop, answering mobile calls through a wireless headset, connecting to their office network through a mobile phone and exchanging business cards through PDAs. All this communication between various personal digital devices mentioned happens over wireless. While you might feel that these are all restricted applications that would not be useful for everyone, then you’re probably right, because what’s in store for you in the near future is far more. 

Existing wireless PAN technologies like IrDA and Bluetooth 1.2 have reached a roadblock and can’t go beyond what they currently offer. Three new technologies, namely Bluetooth 2.0, Wireless USB, and ZigBee, plan to take this communication far beyond just a bunch of devices to include just about every personal digital device you can imagine. 

Bluetooth is the most widely used of all three. The 2.0 version will operate in the same frequency band (2.45 GHz) as the previous 1.2 version. An important change in its specification to note is that a Bluetooth 2 enabled device offers a peak data rate of up to 3 Mbps (2.1 Mbps real throughput) while 1.2 specification offered peak rate of just 1 Mbps (723 Kbps). The increased throughput will enable large file transfer and faster transmission of music and video. Bluetooth 2.0 devices also consume less power, and the maximum distance can go up to 100 metres. Some other notable changes in 2.0 are improved quality of service for better audio and video streaming. There is also support for multicast by which one Bluetooth device can simultaneously transfer data to many Bluetooth devices, eg a CD player sending music to multiple headsets. Version 2.0 is backward compatible with 1.X versions. One of the first Bluetooth 2.0+EDR enabled devices is Apple’s latest Powerbook G4 portables line. 

While the new Bluetooth does offer many benefits, its applications are limited only to devices where large file transfers are not required. What if the need is for passing heavier data over wireless, say from a video camcorder to a TV? Or how about backing up data from multiple PCs to an external hard drive? Surely Bluetooth will hit a wall there with the bandwidth it has to offer. That’s where Wireless USB comes into the picture. Being a direct take off from its wired cousin, namely USB 2.0, the wireless technology plans to offer up to 480 Mbps throughput. That’s even higher than what existing WLANs offer. This is possible because it uses Ultra-Wideband technology for transferring data, which uses a very wide RF spectrum. It can use a band that’s 7 GHz wide, ranging from 3.1 to 10.6 GHz.

This technology is also receiving strong backing from several industry giants, including Intel, Philips, and NEC.

Coming to the last one, ZigBee is the exact opposite of Bluetooth and WUSB. It’s meant for remote monitoring applications such as home, building, and industrial automation. It could therefore be used largely as sensor devices for air conditioning, cooling, smoke alarms, etc. For this, very high throughputs are not needed. What’s needed is a device that requires low power consumption so that it can run longer over batteries to the tune of several years. ZigBee offers just that. Plus, you can use ZigBee to connect more than 64,000 devices, which is far higher than the other two technologies. 

As far as availability goes, Bluetooth 2.0 is already hear, while the other two are expected sometime during this year itself. Wireless USB might take longer to come to India due to the frequency band it operates in a different frequency band. 

High-speed Mobile Internet Access
Nothing is more treasured by mobile executives than a mobile Internet connection, which can get them connected, no matter where they are. Mobile executives (road warriors), such as sales professionals, always feel the need for the ability to access the Internet, wherever they are, be it in a car, a restaurant, or an office. While a mobile phone can let them be connected by voice, irrespective of their location, a similar solution for data transfer is also required in today’s fast moving information age. Nevertheless, the same mobile phone can now also be used for fast Internet access. All you need is a mobile phone capable of transferring data, a connection between the mobile phone and your notebook, and data service enabled from your mobile service provider. But, can I have a GSM connection and not a CDMA connection, or vice versa? Does my mobile phone support data? What throughput will I receive? What service do I need to get activated from the service provider? All these questions are definitely going to crop in everybody’s mind. So, let’s get to the answers to all these questions.

Present data transfer technologies
Users of CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) services from Reliance and Tata Indicom can enjoy high speed (144 kbps) Internet access on their notebooks by connecting their mobile phones to it. Almost all mobile-phone models, even the low-end sub 4k models, supplied by these providers support Internet connectivity. Cables to connect the phone to the notebook are also readily available. Tariffs are based on the number of minutes you are connected to the Internet.
For GSM users, Internet access is provided through a technology called GPRS (General Packet Radio Service). All major GSM operators, such as Hutch, Airtel, Idea, BSNL, MTNL, support GPRS and have varying tariff plans ranging from fixed plans to volume based plans. To use GPRS, you need a GPRS capable mobile phone, which may not fit in the lowest of price bands. Connectivity between the phone and notebook can be done using cable, Infrared or Bluetooth, depending on the model. Maximum attainable speed for GPRS is 57.6 kbps. For faster access, Hutch and Airtel are providing EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for Global Evolution) services, which can take the speed up to 230 kbps. But, EDGE enabled phones will be more expensive than the GPRS ones.

While the data speeds mentioned above for both GSM and CDMA, may appear to be more than enough for most practical needs, the fact is that the thirst for bandwidth never quenches. So, for more bandwidth hungry users, there are some new technologies, which have already been deployed in a few other countries and will soon be available in India also.

Evolution Data Only (EV-DO) is the name of the technology that can provide 2.4 Mbps of bandwidth to mobile users on a CDMA network. GSM users wanting more bandwidth need not despair, as another technology named Wideband CDMA (W-CDMA) can provide them also with 1920 Kbps of bandwidth. It may seem that W-CDMA is related to CDMA, but despite the similarity in name W-CDMA has little to do with CDMA. W-CDMA is meant for GSM networks and not CDMA networks. Such high speeds make them-EV-DO and W-CDMA-3G technologies and can be used for applications like high speed video transmission. However, you will have to upgrade your phones to more expensive models to use these

Video streaming and conferencing
Voice over wireless (mobile phone networks) was not enough, people wanted more. So the technology giants came with cellular networks that could carry data and we could now browse the Internet on the mobile phone itself. But as always the development was not to stop at this. With the advent of 3G networks, video streaming or TV on mobile phones has also become a reality. 

A video stream can only be sent to a mobile phone, which supports streaming. In other words the phone must have the requisite player installed. There are a number of mobile phones or smart phones that come preloaded with such players. We shall list these phones later in the article. The way streaming is materialized is that; first the video clip is digitized, compressed and captured from a camera to a PC. From this PC the compressed video is transferred to a streaming server. The mobile phone users can then access this streaming server through the Internet and view these digital video clips.

Video streaming over the Internet might not be a very exciting thing to talk about as it has been there for quite some time. But what makes streaming a challenging task as far as mobile phones are concerned is that the phones provide very little buffer memory, so not much content can be buffered. The streaming content immediately begins to play back after the downloading to the mobile phone is started. Hence, arises a need for faster data transfers through the mobile networks.

Thus there is a need for the 3G network to enable video steaming. 

The 3G network is being offered in some parts of Europe, but it is still not there in India. Some Indian service providers, such as Hutch are providing video downloading, over 2.5G networks using EDGE technology. The difference here is that the video is not played in real-time. You have to first download the video clip and then play it. Here, unlike the 3G network the playback will not start as soon as you start the downloading. The 3G network uses UMTS technology for achieving higher data transfer rates.

EDGE stands for Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution. It is a radio based high-speed mobile data standard that runs over the GSM network (2G or 2.5G). It is capable of achieving a maximum data transmission speed of 230 kbps. EDGE gives GSM operators( that are not running on 3G) the opportunity to offer data services at speeds that are near to those available on UMTS networks.

UMTS is the short for Universal Mobile Tele-communications System. It is a 3G mobile technology that is capable of delivering data transfer speeds of up to 1920 kbits/sec. But this speed is under ideal conditions.

An example of video streaming practically being used in today’s scenario: CNBC Europe’s weekday broadcast is available directly on your mobile phone (of course the phone should be video capable). This service is available all across Europe and is nothing but a 24-hour live video stream of CNBC Europe’s weekday broadcast. 

As mentioned earlier, there are no such examples available in India as the 3G network is yet to be setup here.

Some mobile phones that support video streaming include the Nokia’s 9500, 6220, 6230, 6330 and 3220. It also works on Sony Ericsson’s P800 and P900 models.

Video conferencing
Video conferencing over wires is already possible and being used in many places. But video conferencing over GSM networks (mobile phone network) using merely a handset is something that not many people have heard of. With the advent of the 3G networks, video conferencing is just one of the applications that have become possible. Since these networks provide much higher bandwidth of more than 384 Kbps. 

One thing that is necessary for a mobile phone to be able to do video conferencing is that it should have a camera on the front side (not one on the backside, which is generally the trend among mobile phones). This way the user can view the screen (which is where the caller’s video feed is displayed) and face the camera at the same time, so that his video feed can also be sent to the caller.

This is still in a very raw stage and will take some time to come up. Some of the handsets that come with video conferencing capabilities are Motorola (A1000, E1000, A925), NEC (e338, e228), and LG (8120, u8138). UK already has a 3G service running by the name of 3. This service is being provided by Hutchison and supports video conferencing, provided you have the appropriate mobile phone.

Various multimedia applications including video conferencing and Voice over IP (VOIP) are also run wirelessly over Wi-fi networks. The only limitation here is that multimedia applications in a Wi-Fi network require Quality of Service (QoS), which has a different meaning in different communication services. In some cases it refers to the throughput rate achieved, in some it refers to the reliability or performance of the service.

In the case of WiFi networks, as far a video conferencing is concerned QoS refers to the prioritization. Here a Wi-Fi access point has to prioritize traffic and thereby optimize the way in which shared network resources are allocated among different applications. Without QoS, all applications running on different devices have equal rights to transfer data. This might work well for normal file transfers and web browsing, but multimedia applications require priority over other traffic. As their demand for bandwidth is much higher than other applications.

of wireless technologies
Technology Max
WiMax 70
to 50 kms
broadband connectivity
EV-DO 2.4
unlimited High
speed mobile Internet
WCDMA 1920
unlimited High
speed mobile Internet
USB 2.0
area network
2.0 EDR
area network
and campus area network
EDGE 230
unlimited High
speed mobile Internet
CDMA 144Kbps unlimited Mobile
GPRS 57.6
unlimited Mobile
FSO 100
Mbps to few Gbps
area network
to Gbps
Area Network
unlimited Remote
location connectivity
Infrared 16
area network
ZigBee 250
monitoring and control;

Anil Chopra, Ankit Kawatra, Anoop Mangla, Neha Shamshery, Rinku tyagi,Sanjay majumder, Sushil Oswal 

Wireless Time Line 

A frequency-hopping radio encryption technique (later called Spread-spectrum technology) patented; donated to US Navy

First computer chip for radio communication based on spread-spectrum technology
developed by US Navy. Technology still classified

Spread-spectrum technology goes commercial; declassified and made available to public by US Navy

FCC (Federal Communications Commission) allows three radio bands to use the technology

IEEE begins work on standards for wireless connectivity in the unlicensed spectrum

IEEE approves 802.11 for ‘over-the-air interface between wireless clients and base stations’. FCC 
allows fourth band to use the spread-spectrum technology

802.11a and b ratified. 802.11b products begin shipping

WECA (Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance) launches WiFi certification programme for 802.11b-compliant products. MIcrosoft releases Windows 2000 with WLAN sniffer ability

Wireless hot
spots in  coffee shops. Shipping of 802.11a products and 802.11g device development begins

WECA becomes (WFA) WiFi Alliance, begins 802.11a certification tests. WPA rolls out to replace WEP. First 802.11a/b products shipped

Intel introduces  Centrino mobile technology. 802.11g products begin 
shipping. First WiFi zone launched 

Wireless charging pads to be
released by year end. Almost 0.5 billion 802.11-based devices to be sold in this year itself

Global Positioning System

We are among the fortunate lot for we don’t have to chase the pole star or look for other signs of nature as clues for direction. Neither do we have to fumble with cumbersome compasses and charts to find where we are. Thankfully, to bail us out we have things like GPS (Global Positioning System) around! GPS offers a whole lot of applications on land, at sea and in the air. The airborne application being navigation; at sea, its used for navigation by recreational boaters, commercial fishermen, and professional mariners. Land-based applications are more diverse. The scientific community uses GPS for its precision timing capability and position information. 

GPS is a satellite-based navigation system, which provides specially coded satellite signals that can be processed in a GPS receiver, enabling the receiver to compute position, velocity and time. You can plan your trip from the in-car GPS device itself and hit the road. Some such devices are Cobra NavOne 3000, Garmin StreetPilot 2620, Magellan RoadMate 300 and TomTom GO. A new product line has come up resulting in GPS add-ons for notebooks, PDAs, and cellular phones. Garmin iQue 3600 is one such personal digital assistant. In fact the sophisticated ones even offer spoken directions and voice-activated commands for use with multimedia notebooks and

In India, however, personal GPS products is not all that popular-the primary reason being the price at which they come. Here GPS is most popularly used in tracking and mapping activities. 

In fact a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean and the surrounding seas has been proposed. This will employ GPS by way of comprehensive mapping and zoning of risk prone areas with the help of remote sensing and usage of satellite imageries. 

The market may just pick up sometime in the future, but as of now we can’t afford it in a big way.

Wireless Gaming

When everything else is being touched by wireless, how can games stay behind? Wireless gaming is another area that’s picking up. You couldn’t have missed the Nokia N-Gage TV ad, where two boys challenge each other for a game over their cellphones. Basically most handheld devices, be they a cellphone or a PDA, are coming with built-in wireless technology. If it’s Bluetooth, then two or more wireless devices can play games against each other if they’re in the vicinity, such as a room or a train. Alternately, multi-player games are also possible over the wireless service provider’s network, wherein the distance between the players is only restricted by the coverage of the mobile service provider. Imagine three friends sitting in three different metros and challenging each other to a death match! So essentially there are two ways to provide a multi-player game. One is quasi peer-to-peer, where you’re playing games over Bluetooth, while the other is via a remote server, which is over your service provider’s network. For instance Airtel Live is a service from Airtel, which lets you to download single player games of your choice by just sending an SMS. These games are downloaded just like you download ring tones. 

Other gaming devices are also going wireless. For instance, you can now also play games over a wireless LAN. There are enough wireless gaming adapters available that can hook up your Playstation or Xbox together over WiFi so that you don’t end up getting tied down by cables. All this is possible today, but may be in near feature with WiMAX, game lovers could even play games across their apartments or cities. Since the bandwidth will be higher, they could play much better quality games.

WiFi Cellphones

You are calling somebody in your office using your mobile phone; the call goes to the nearest cell phone tower, from there to the call switching center and then to the called person’s cell phone. All this happens just to complete a call made to a person sitting, maybe, next to you. Ever wondered if there could be a shorter way of completing this call, by using your local WiFi access point instead of the cellular service provider’s network? Even if you haven’t, somebody out there has, and the answer is a device that can be called a WiFi cellphone. It would have WiFi as well as cellphone circuitry built in. Plus, it would also have VoIP embedded. This way, it would act as an IP phone on a WiFi network, and a cellphone when used outside.

Coming to the benefits, Voice over IP (VoIP) is already proven to be a cost efficient technology and is an effective way of making voice calls over an IP network.

The same technology when used over a WiFi network, can provide for local wireless phone calls, the same way a cell phone network enables mobile phone calls.

This would provide greater flexibility and cost saving, as the calls will be routed through the local WiFi network and not through the cell phone network. 

Users of such a hybrid device would now have two numbers associated with them; a cell number and a VoIP number. While making a call, if the called party is available within your wireless network, the call will be made through the local wireless network. If the called party is outside the WiFi network, then the call gets routed through the cellular service provider’s network. All this will happen in a manner that’s completely transparent to the users. Isn’t this an amazing application of WiFi? Indeed, it is, but the success of this kind of an application depends upon a number of things. For one, a company must have a VoIP deployment. This would mean at least a VoIP gateway, which would be able to store the VoIP numbers of all the WiFi cellphones and be able to route calls between them. Secondly, it would require the organization to have WiFi on the network. Third and most important is that this sort of a solution would be viable mostly for organizations with offices in multiple locations, which are also interconnected through some form of leased circuits. Since the number of VoIP deployments themselves are fairly limited in India, this sort of a solution still has a long way to go before it becomes popular. Products supporting this dual functionality are already available from Motorola, HP and NEC.

Wireless Electricity

The first bulb was lit using thermal power, then came hydropower succeeded by solar power and nuclear power. While technology was evolving, so was the length and complexity of wired networks and cables transmitting power. 

The next big thing
The next innovation to be watched out for could be Wireless Electricity or Wireless Power, as it is popularly known. As of today, the applications are far fetched and only a few pioneer OEMs are continuing their research in making it happen and realizing its applications. Splashpower, a UK based organization has already made it public that they will be commercially releasing wireless charging pads for cellphones and other gadgets by the end of this year. 

Tesla, who once claimed that with wireless transmission of electrical power, one could light a bulb planted in dirt anywhere on the Earth, fathered this technology. He intended doing this by altering the electrical equilibrium of earth and using it in some equipment. He is also told to have had some early success in transmitting power wirelessly way back in the 1907. His experiments and the results show conviction and with further advances the transmission of industrial amounts of electrical energy with minimal losses was also feasible. 

Working principle
Different possible techniques are being studied to reach an optimal solution to generate wireless power. One is to make use of a broad-spectrum radio receiver that can absorb energy from all the microwave and radio transmissions. Another uses a set of devices placed near each other that suck ambient energy to contribute it to a local wireless energy grid, thus, enabling transmission of energy using laser beams or local induction. But the chances are that ZPE (Zero Point Energy) or magnetically generated energy are more viable options that will deliver performance at par with or better than solar cells. The principle of electromagnetic induction and inductive coupling is currently being used to transfer power from one device to another. As a result, the charging pads that have been proposed need no cords, connectors or sockets between them and the device/s.

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