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10/14/2005
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Get Ready For The Ride: Wireless Technologies To Advance Quickly

Fast, third-generation cellular networks, new business-class mobile devices, mobile Linux, and high-capacity cell phones are all on tap in the coming months.

According to many industry experts who gathered at this week's Mobile Business Expo in Chicago, we are embarking on the most significant period of advancement in the history of wireless computing.

In the next couple of years, wireless networks and technology will evolve quickly. In 2006, for example, third-generation cellular networks that offer high-speed data transmission will become more prevalent, said Mark Lowenstein, an analyst at consulting and advisory firm Mobile Ecosystem, during the conference's opening keynote.

The major wireless carriers, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, and Cingular, are expected to dominate 80% of the 3G market, he said. Some carriers will expand a 3G technology called EV-DO, short for Evolution-Data Optimized, which offers data-download rates of up to 2.4 Mbps. EV-DO puts voice and data on separate channels, leading to faster connections to the Internet. By adding EV-DO modules and software to existing base stations, carriers can increase performance of their networks from the current 50 to 70 Kbps to between 300 and 500 Kbps.

Verizon Wireless first went live with EV-DO in Washington and San Diego in 2003 and now offers the service in 50 metropolitan areas. Sprint launched an EV-DO service in major airports and in the central business districts in 34 markets throughout the U.S. in July. Cingular began deploying a 3G service based on international standards, which offers data speeds between 400 and 700 Kbps. All three plan to expand these services to more markets. "3G will make cellular a default for access for remote workers," said Lowenstein.

Operating systems for mobile devices will go through a change as well. Linux will emerge as an operating system, giving businesses greater control over what's available on their devices. The leading vendors, including Palm, Research In Motion, and Microsoft, will roll out new business-class devices with PC cards and Wi-Fi clients in the next three quarters.

Additionally, more cell phones in 2006 will have removable storage and more capacity. "The potential is huge, considering that 55% of the U.S. population subscribes to a mobile phone," said Vicki Warker, VP of marketing and products at Sprint's Business Solutions group.

With all the changes taking place, convergence will be a key priority for businesses in 2006, Lowenstein said. Contrary to the buzz in the wireless industry, convergence still has a ways to go. In fact, most businesses are only starting to experiment with convergence, both on the network side and with integrating IP with legacy systems.

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