Rogers Cantel and Ericsson Canada want to get in on the ground floor of the expected boom in wireless Internet and are running trials of WAP (wireless application protocol) technology over Cantel’s TDMA network.
There is vast growth potential in the wireless data market and WAP has the edge over competitors, said George Karidis, director of research with the Yankee Group in Canada.
“Basically, WAP is the leader,” he said.
WAP is a software standard that allows new applications to run across a wireless network. WAP 1.1 allows cellular phone users to get at web pages designed using WML (wireless markup language – a type of HTML). However, WAP does not allow for open browsing (no full-graphics) on the Internet. Instead users will require micro-browsers on handsets to access the Web-based information.
The development of WAP applications is important because it provides a standard for Internet wireless. North America is lagging behind Europe in cellular communication because Europe has one standard for networks (GMS). In North America, there are four standards, including TDMA, and this has resulted in “stymied innovation” in wireless data development, said Jonathan Bordan, product manager for wireless data with Ericsson Canada.
“That’s actually another reason why WAP is important now. What you’re doing is creating a software standard that’s now truly independent of the underlying technology,” he said.
The trial will use a time divisional multiple access (TDMA IS 136) network maintained by Cantel. TDMA is a satellite and cellular phone technology that takes multiple digital signals onto a single high-speed channel. For cellular, TDMA triples the capacity of the original analogue method. TDMA divides each channel into three sub-channels providing service to three users instead of one.
“This is not a exploratory trial. The goal, in our opinion, to get Cantel’s feet wet with WAP technology and we certainly hope it turns into a full rollout,” Bordan said.
Ericsson’s TDMA/CDMA WAP system is based on the JAMBALA platform. The JAMBALA application platform is designed around open standards and pluggable Java components. The JAMBALA WAP Gateway is targeted at TDMA and CDMA operators globally and is bundled together with a range of WAP applications.
WAP is a first step towards mobile Internet and both companies hope this will not only make the current Internet available from mobile terminals, but also create a whole new set of services that will be available anywhere, anytime for any user.
“It will be up to Internet developers out there to come up with really cool applications geared toward small displays and mobility,” Bordan said.
The first phase of the project involved a technical evaluation at Cantel, said Dave Nelle, vice-president of new product development for Cantel.
“We wanted to prove to ourselves we could do it [and] we have done that,” Nelle said.
The project is about to enter its second phase which involves limited customer trials with the Bank of Nova Scotia in metro Toronto.
The third phase will involve a consumer product launch.
Karidis predicted that demand for
wireless products will soon outstrip that of personal computers.
“Well, let’s just look at it in terms of how many people have a cellular phone or PCS phone today and that market gets bigger not smaller,” he said.
For example, wireless currently has a 21 per cent market penetration in Canada and is expected to be closer to 30 per cent by the end of the year 2000, Karidis said.
“So, that’s a third of all Canadians with a PCS device [and] that’s more than what we have in PCs at home,” he said.
With such a staggering market potential in wireless, Ericsson and Cantel, by developing applications that ride across wireless networks, could be part of the driving force for how we communicate in the future, Karidis said.
The main issue is what form these new wireless technologies will take and this will be dictated by the needs of consumers, Karidis said.
“What do people want to do with their wireless device and, I think the issue then is, how much do they want to give up on a wireless device that we would have at home, in the office or anywhere else? I think the answer to that [question] is ‘we don’t want to give up anything’,” Karidis said.
Bordan, who’s been in the wireless data business for over 11 years, admitted it’s been a long haul for wireless data to get to this point.
“It’s been very frustrating. Almost every year, for the last six or seven years, when you get the core wireless data people together everybody says, “This coming next year is going to be the year of wireless data,'” Bordan said.
“This is the first time where you see a tremendous effort going on out there. This whole area is just boiling,” he added.
At this stage in the trial Nokia handsets are being used until Ericsson’s new WAP-based handsets are released.