Faster wireless rates coming soon

For traveling workers, connecting wirelessly to the home office is about to become easier as wireless telcos worldwide beef up to support a faster third-generation (3G) technology, also known as EVDO (Evolution, Data Optimized or Evolution Data Only).

EVDO is built on top of CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) networks and has theoretical speeds ranging from 300kbps to 2.4Mbps. Bell Canada said this will let users access more bandwidth-intensive applications wirelessly, such as e-mail, video-messaging, gaming, video conferencing, telematics and streaming entertainment.

“Initially it’s being targeted as a data service,” explained Russ Freen, CTO at Bridgewater Systems Inc., in Ottawa. “It is an asymmetrical service, about 800kbps in the upstream but less in the downstream and there are some delay issues that make it not perfect for voice.”

With Bell Canada and Telus’s current CDMA 1xRTT (3G) networks users can get theoretical speeds ranging from 144Kbps to 2Mbps. Rogers Wireless Communications Inc.’s EDGE network provides speeds up to 384kbps. Rogers uses Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) technology, which can be upgraded to EVDO but not as easily as Bell and Telus’ current CDMA networks.

While the theoretical EVDO speeds range up to 2.4Mbps, user experiences with actual speeds have varied. Mark Quigley, Canadian market strategies research director at the Yankee Group Canada, in Ottawa, said users would get actual speeds between 300kbps to 400kbps. U.S.-based Verizon Wireless, which has already deployed an EVDO network says its users get speeds ranging from 300kbps to 500kbps. Bridgewater’s Freen, who has tested EVDO extensively has experienced actual speeds ranging from 300kbps to 800kbps.

Right now Wi-Fi hotspots are a popular way for mobile employees to make a connection with the corporate LAN but they have one drawback — the user has to stay in the same place. With EVDO, users can get the 300kbps to 2.4Mbps as long as they stay in the range of the carrier’s network, Freen said. For example, a user could stay connected wirelessly while traveling in a train.

EVDO won’t quash wireless competitors such as Wi-Fi and Wi-Max — indeed they are both faster than EVDO — but Freen said they are technologies with different purposes.

“Wi-Max is quite a bit faster than EVDO but it’s not necessarily oriented around mobile pieces,” Freen explained. “You couldn’t be in your car using it, so it’s more portable than mobile. It wouldn’t work well if you were physically moving.”

Already, mobile professionals in the U.S. can access EVDO through Verizon or Sprint in numerous airports and cities across the country. Canadians will have to wait until late 2005 or early 2006 to take advantage of EVDO. Bell Canada has only just started trials in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) of its EVDO network and Telus refuses to say what its plans are for EVDO.

To use EVDO, users simply need to install an EVDO-enabled wireless card, for their notebook or handheld or purchase an EVDO-enabled handheld. These are already appearing on the market in the U.S. and Korea, where EVDO has been available for the past 18 months, according to Freen.

Greg Speakman director of marketing, PC cards and mobile products for Sierra Wireless in Richmond, B.C. said Canada will see Sierra’s EVDO products available on the market within the coming year.

But whether users will jump on EVDO remains to be seen. Brad Henry, director of IT at Hub International Barton Insurance Brokers Ltd. based in Chilliwack, B.C. currently uses Sierra’s 1xRTT-enabled AirCard555 so its employees can send data over Telus’ 1xRTT network. Barton’s Insurance agents travel to car dealerships and sign motorists up for insurance on the spot. Previously, Barton’s agents would have to call into the office and verbally relay information about a client. Now, Barton uses a text application to send the data over the 1xRTT, which takes 10 to 15 minutes compared with 30 to 40 minutes.

Henry is aware that EVDO is coming but doesn’t want to jump ship too quickly. He said he will EVDO-enable a couple of notebooks for testing purposes when they become available on the market but he’s waiting to see what the consumer response will be to EVDO. Right now, the application Barton uses for 1xRTT works just fine so there is no rush for Barton to move to EVDO.

The Yankee Group’s Quigley said this could be indicative of the industry’s sentiment. Companies that send data over the 1xRTT network have made sure their applications work at the 1xRTT’s slow data speeds so there is no need for them to change.

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