Wireless unclogs the convergence road

A banker flies from New York to Tokyo, grabs a taxi and heads to an important meeting. During the cab ride, he flips on a wireless phone to get video feeds of the latest global financial news and to download pictures of the people he’s scheduled to meet.

An insurance adjuster drives to the scene of a natural disaster and uses a wireless PDA to send video images of damaged homes back to supervisors. Paramedics at a car crash send video of the victim’s injuries to physicians at a trauma center over a broadband wireless connection.

The ability of a handheld device to send and receive voice, data and video over a wireless network offers some tantalizing possibilities for doctors, salespeople, workers on the plant floor – virtually anyone whose job keeps him on the move.

Obviously, today’s handhelds don’t offer video, but the next generation of mobile networks will feature minicams and larger screens and will be able to deliver broadband applications to untethered devices over IP. These end-user devices will include speech-only phones, multimedia phones that come equipped with keypads, PDAs and laptops.

This third-generation wireless technology, dubbed 3G, is also known as IMT-2000, the standard ratified by the International Telecommunication Union. 3G supports data rates from 384Kbps to 2Mbps, which is sufficient for video applications.

Next May, NTT DoCoMo Inc. plans to roll out the world’s first 3G service in Tokyo, Yokohama and Kawasaki, Japan. Since launching its initial mobile Internet service called iMode in February 1999, NTT DoCoMo signed up more than 10 million subscribers. European wireless operators are expected to introduce 3G in late 2002 or early 2003.

However, two factors – the lack of available spectrum and reluctance by wireless operators to make additional infrastructure investments – will likely delay pure 3G’s arrival in North America until 2004.

But North American wireless operators plan to introduce so-called 2.5G services as early as next year. 2.5G technologies, including L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co.’s Enhanced Data Rates for Global Evolution (EDGE) and Qualcomm Inc.’s High Data Rate, let wireless operators maximize their 2G infrastructure.

2.5G supports packet-switched services, and while some 2.5G implementations may suffice for one-way video, 2.5G will not support two-way visual communication. 2.5G is similar to cable modem and asynchronous digital subscriber line technologies in that the download speed is faster than the upload rate, but specific data rates will vary depending on the service provider.

There is also some debate over which technologies are truly 3G. Ericsson calls EDGE a 3G upgrade, and therefore insists the U.S. will get 3G next year, but many analysts disagree and say EDGE is a 2.5G technology.

“We’re clearly going to have 3G in the U.S.,” says Jim Gunn, an analyst at market research firm Forward Concepts in Tempe, Ariz. However, Gunn notes, “In the U.S., 3G will be evolutionary.”

He says deployment will be slowed by the spectrum shortage and by North American wireless operators waiting to invest in 3G until there’s a market demand.

Here are some industries that are likely early-adopters of video over wireless:

Financial services

Wall Street analysts, traders and bankers depend on timely information. However, financial services professionals face heavy travel schedules. Most investment banking firms hold morning calls to review pending deals and strategy with analysts globally. The financial industry streams video of these calls and market-moving news clips to corporate desktops, but financial professionals on the go use their mobile phones more than computers.

“We’re just beginning to think about wireless video applications,” says Andrew Comas, head of technology research for J.P. Morgan & Co. Inc. in New York.

Greg Harper, founder of financial industry streaming company Next Venue, insists that streaming video of morning calls, research and conferences must move beyond the limitations of the desktop. “Being able to do these things without being tethered to the desktop is very attractive. Every investment bank is looking at doing this over wireless,” Harper says.


Because health professionals are often on the run and rarely sit behind desks, the healthcare industry is hungry for video over wireless. Major medical centers and managed care companies use so-called “store-and-forward” video and interactive videoconferencing for telemedicine. Primary care doctors consult with specialists by sending medical images desktop-to-desktop and interacting via real-time video connections over ISDN or IP. Broadband wireless would let health professionals consult on cases as they move from place to place.

Currently, Mount Sinai Hospital in New York streams video from its operating room over IP for medical education.

“It would take telemedicine to a new level,” says Dan McGuirk, technology designer and advisor at Mount Sinai. “You could stream a patient’s tests including radiology, CAT scans or dynamic [moving] studies and transmit them instantly to anyone in the hospital.”

Broadband wireless is particularly useful for echocardiograms and ultrasound because the images are moving and, therefore, require more bandwidth.

The University of Arizona Medical Center has conducted more than 6,000 clinical consultations via store-and-forward and interactive video in the past three years. The telemedicine program delivers services to prisons and rural areas.

“We’re just getting involved with wireless right now,” says Kevin McNeill, the program’s associate director for network development. “There are communities in Arizona where they basically don’t have land-line services. Wireless could support those communities.”


With armies of adjusters moving from place to place, the insurance industry uses wireless voice and data to reach its mobile workforce. Give this industry broadband wireless, and an array of tantalizing applications emerge.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew caused nearly US$25 billion in damage and wiped out entire city blocks in southern Florida. Adjusters had difficulty determining where streets and houses were located before the hurricane hit. Broadband wireless could have let them access images and video showing city blocks before and after Andrew.

“You could forward a video display of how an area looked before the hurricane hit. You could certainly compare that data with customer data including the location of homes and the conditions of roofs,” says Bob Reiner, unit manager of enterprise Internet services for State Farm Insurance. “We’re doing a lot of planning right now for wireless. There are some really practical applications for our claims force and agents in the world.”

Investigations are another application for video over wireless. Insurance investigators frequently shoot video of people they are observing who are claiming bodily injury. The ability to transmit the video from the scene could boost efficiency. Omega Insurance Services is an investigative services vendor to the insurance industry.

“On a big dollar claim, the insurance companies want to know the information in real time,” says Tim Fargo, Omega’s president. “If I can send the video in real time, it gives me the opportunity to patch it through to somebody who can ID the person. They can say ‘That’s the right guy, stay with him.’ “

Fargo adds that insurance companies frequently refuse to pay his firm for video of the wrong subject, so real-time confirmation would save time and money.


“We have these brainstorming sessions along with everybody else about applications for 3G wireless,” says Mike Ledford, executive director for telematics of Ford Motor Co. “The obvious one is streaming multimedia to the backseat of a car so that you can watch Mickey Mouse while taking the kids to Disneyland.”

However, the auto industry also believes that video over wireless could be useful in communicating with business partners, namely dealerships and service technicians.

“Telling the service technician how to replace a part might benefit from video. Since a lot of service centers and dealership service bays today aren’t wired with high-bandwidth capability, they could potentially benefit from 3G wireless,” Ledford says. However, universal wireless capability is key to Ford, and Ledford says his company will be interested in 3G only if it is reasonably ubiquitous.

Besides key industries that will be early adopters of video over wireless, there are several enterprise applications that cut across most industries, including:


Wireless video will likely become a key tool for mobile sales professionals. For example, a sales representative for a factory construction company could show a prospective customer a video of a factory in action. In another example, real estate agents could show homebuyers video walk-throughs of houses.


Business-to-employee applications include internal corporate communications and training. Corporate communications departments can leverage video over wireless as a tool to reach employees during otherwise unproductive periods. Employees could receive video clips from the CEO’s speech, the new marketing campaign, or from a TV news story about a competitor on their wireless devices and view them as they take the train to work or while waiting in an airport. Employee benefits could let managers send video clips to team members explaining the new health plan. Also, managers could join department meetings via mobile videoconferencing from virtually anywhere. Video over wireless also has possibilities for employee education.

“If you could do training on demand in short bursts, 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there, you could finish a course,” says Azita Arvani, vice-president for strategy and business development for ActiveSky, which designs tools for viewing multimedia over wireless devices.


Business-to-business applications for video over wireless include viewing videos of parts and machinery used in manufacturing. A manager on the go can determine which goods and services to order. Wireless video will also let companies communicate and collaborate with key suppliers in real time regardless of location. Engineers building an airport in the United Arab Emirates, for example, could review design plans with the project architect who is riding in a taxi in New York.


A key driver for 2.5G and 3G wireless is “location-specific” services. This means advertisers can track where people are and market services directly to them. For instance, operators will maintain detailed profiles of consumers. When those consumers drive to a shopping mall, their mobile devices will begin displaying visual advertisements for goods available inside the mall. 3G wireless applications including video will likely change business models. Location-specific services will benefit brick-and-mortar businesses over pure dot-coms in that companies can target market to consumers based on which stores or locations they are physically near.

Management concerns

For corporate IS managers, broadband wireless presents new management issues. Users will upload information into corporate databases from wireless devices, and these databases may include rich media types such as video. This means wireless operators will invade a space that has typically been the exclusive province of corporate IS.

“The moment you add a wireless net, the old schema of how you get that data and control access doesn’t make sense anymore,” says Greg Harper, a financial industry technology consultant.

“[IS managers] have got to realize that connectivity may not just be on their own LAN. They have to architect today [with the expectation] that there may be other networks out there that will be secure,” he adds.

Besides mobility, 3G will also provide “fixed wireless,” which means wireless in fixed locations including homes and businesses.

“3G will give you great flexibility, more bandwidth and easier access than in a wired setting,” says Rip Tilden, executive vice-president of InterDigital, which holds more than 800 wireless patents. “You could plop your laptop down anywhere and conduct a videoconference, if you wish.”

Bluetooth, a specification for short-range radio links between mobile PCs, mobile phones and other devices, will complement 3G for fixed wireless. 3G and Bluetooth will let corporate users access “context-sensitive” information. That means when we enter a conference room for a meeting, the agenda can pop up on our devices.

Japan vs. North America

North American wireless operators will wait until they prove the business case for 3G before investing in infrastructure upgrades. In the meantime, Japan is clearly leap-frogging the rest of the world in deploying 3G.

NTT DoCoMo thinks users will embrace broadband applications, including video. So what’s different in the U.S.?

Internet penetration in the U.S. exceeds cell phone penetration, so the conventional wisdom is that demand for wireless broadband applications in the U.S. will trail that of Japan. Also, some analysts believe the American culture is less likely to crave wireless multimedia applications.

“Japan is a unique culture. [The current generation of] iMode has taken off because of unique cultural things in Japan,” says Jane Zweig, executive vice-president of Herschel Shosteck Associates. “Downloading [cartoon] screen savers on cell phones . . . in Japan, that’s big stuff.”

As 2.5G technologies take hold in the U.S. next year, wireless operators may resist upgrading to full-blown 3G until 2004. However, many operators and technology providers will likely market 2.5G as 3G.

“I expect 2.5G to proliferate in a lot of places and potentially impede customer use of 3G. It will take such a long time to get 2.5G out,” according to Lisa Pierce, the head telecommunications analyst for Giga Information Group in Cambridge, Mass. “We had better get used to the idea that we’re talking about a 100Kbps experience. It’s better than what we have today, but it’s not this unlimited euphoria.”

Search for spectrum

Besides the billions of dollars necessary for 3G infrastructure upgrades, the other factor delaying 3G in the U.S. is the lack of dedicated spectrum. In March 2001, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission will auction spectrum in the 700-MHz band. However, some technology providers question whether this block is broad enough to support 3G services, namely wideband code division multiple access (W-CDMA).

“The problem with W-CDMA is that you need so much spectrum. Each channel is 500 MHz wide, and you need two channels to deploy it,” according to Lars Nilsson, Ericsson’s manager of strategic marketing.

3G on radar screens

The bottom line is that wireless operators will pay attention to the broadband wireless application demands of the customer. But operators will stop short of sinking billions of dollars into 3G upgrades until they are reasonably certain the investments will pay off.

In the meantime, corporate IS managers should put 3G applications including video on their radar screens.

“My advice to IT managers is to test some things out,” says Ira Brodsky, an analyst with Datacomm Research Company.

Corporate strategists must think about how 3G wireless will change network management models and plan for voice, video and data over IP-oriented mobile networks.