Is wireless data ready for prime time?

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The past decade has seen some false starts for wireless messaging and other data services. Even as U.S. business people turned to cell phones as a critical business tool, the practice of using those phones for more than just voice has stumbled in this country.

But now, several converging trends persuasively predict an explosion in the demand for wireless data communication services. The fact is more and more end users are spending more time away from the office. They demand seamless Internet access, and -- spoiled by T1 connections -- they demand high speed.

The Boston-based Yankee Group estimates that the number of North American mobile data subscribers will more than triple between 1999 and 2002 -- growing from 3.4 million to 10.9 million. And Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp. estimates that while today, 15% of the U.S. 64 million mobile phone customers use their devices for data, the number will leap to 70% (of 108 million users) by 2002.

A careful look at these trends and business needs, which are sure to accelerate in the near future, hint at ways IT leaders can position themselves and their organizations for the coming demand.

Wilting WAP

It's important to note that once-ballyhooed wireless application protocol (WAP) devices are running into turbulence; many experts predict WAP development will slow, replaced by next-generation XML (the markup language that is likely to succeed HTML as the de facto Web standard). WAP transmission speeds are presently limited to approximately 9.6K bit/sec., far too slow for the pace of today's business. Moreover, this limited bandwidth means users must do without the graphics and audio that today's business users take for granted. WAP speeds are seen increasing in the next several years -- too late to benefit those who use today's devices.

Into this breach jumps WorldCom Wireless Internet service. It will be one of the first commercial rollouts of true wireless high-speed broadband Internet access. Designed from the start as a wireless data network, the service offers business users always-on, low-cost (the unit features a flat-rate pricing model comparable to those of other enterprise-quality digital subscriber lines), fully compatible, truly mobile Internet access technology.

The network supporting WorldCom Wireless Internet is the result of more than 200 engineer-years of development. It was created by Metricom and was originally used by utilities to remotely read meters. The system uses a mixture of patented technologies, radio frequencies and Internet Protocol-based networking to deliver true broadband performance -- a screaming 128K bit/sec. -- high reliability, security and compatibility with common infrastructures.

Network design

The network has been cleverly designed and built-out. On the user end, it starts with rugged, easy-to-install wireless modems that work with a variety of PC, Macintosh and handheld devices. These modems acquire signals from microcell radios: shoebox-sized intelligent transceiveers usually mounted to streetlights or utility poles in a mesh network. These microcell radios communicate with users' laptops or handhelds through the wireless modems and are configured to route incoming packets to the optimal Wired Access Point. (Every packet sent contains a compressed summary of the data that ensures reliability.)

These Wired Access Points, strategically placed, collect and convert the radio frequency packets into a format for transmission on a local wired IP network. One critical component of the Wired Access Point is its Ethernet radio, which operates like a microcell radio but converts radio data packets into a format transmittable to a wired IP network. This key RF-to-IP translation is the linchpin of the WorldCom system; it takes advantage of the faster speeds inherent in such technologies as

fiber-optics and T1.

All Wired Access Points in a region are linked to a regional Network Interface Facility, which in turn connects the wired network to one of WorldCom's Network Operations Centers.

Available in some major markets in early 2001, WorldCom's Wireless Internet is expanding at a breakneck pace; coverage will reach 100 million people by late 2001.

The bottom line

IT leaders will find no shortage of useful applications for WorldCom Wireless Internet service. Finally, IT can turn road warriors, busy executives and telecommuters loose with free-flowing Net access. All without putting extra strain on their servers, network or help-desk staff. Compatibility with PCs and PDAs ensures that the work end users do away from the office will be truly useful. Think of it as free-range browsing, if you will.

The bottom line is that WorldCom Wireless Internet network brings, for the first time, true independence to end users on the go. And IT leaders know that untethered end users both contribute more to the bottom line -- and make the entire IT organization look good.

WorldCom Wireless Internet and other messaging services are key components of generation d -- a corporate-wide focus on high-growth data, Internet and wireless services that enable E-Businesses and drive today's digital economy.

For more information on WorldCom Wireless Internet service, visit www.wcom.com or call 1-800-WORLDCOM.

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