Magazine article Online

What Online Searchers Should Know about Wireless Data Communications

Magazine article Online

What Online Searchers Should Know about Wireless Data Communications

Article excerpt

The idea of performing cummunications tasks without being wired to a phone jack is hardly futuristic. What? You still don't own a cellular phone?! Well, don't get too anxious. The wireless data communications (WDC) revolution has begun, but progress is slow. How slow? A recent article in PC Magazine on wireless communications was featured on the front cover. The headline's subtitle was, "How Much Longer Before It All Works" [1].

As ubiguitous wireless data networks take shape, wireless telecommunications functions, like online searching or electonic mail, will be more common and affordable within two to three years. Confusion over with of several competing technologies will best serve the needs of online searchers persists. Some existing technologies may be inappropriate, and other emerging technologies may hold unkown potential. This artEcle will profile the major WDC systems, provide an overview of how they work, and compartively examine their communication features. Gaining an understanding of wireless data systems, those available now and those on the planning board, will help online searchers prepare for the eventuality of wireless data communications.

THE MARKET FOR WIRELESS DATA

At the dawn of the wireless era, marked by the introduction of cellular phone service, AT&T market researchers projected about 900,000 mobile phones would be in use in the United States by the year 2000 [2]. Now there are over 12 million cellular phone users, most of whom use only voice services. Only six to ten precent of that marekt makes use of the cellular system for data communications. Companies such as AT&T, Motorola, McCaw Cellular Communiations, Ericssion, and a host of other communications and computer firms are working frevently to construct wireless data systems in hopes of greatly expanding the market for data communications. The vision behind the effort, as described by George Fisher, Chief Executive Officer of Motorola, is simply to "enable people and machines to access and commuication information seamlessly, anywhere, anytime and at their convenience." There is also tremendous revenue potential in meeting the data communication needs of the approximately 40 percent of the workforce that is mobile [3].

There is wide speculation about the potential market for wireless data communications. Depending on what source is consulted any of the following predictions may be found:

* By 1996, WDC will be as commonplace as wired data communication is today.

* The Current WDC market is 600,000 users and will grow to five million by 1997.

* The WDC market for two-way mobile data will reach 9.6 million subscribers by 1997, and generate $2 billion in revnune.

Uncertainly about the market potential is based on the relative infancy of the wireless data communications industry. Experts readily admit they lack definitive answers to questions about which of the competing systems will dominate the market. To place the current WDC environment in perspective, consider that it is frequently compared to the personal computer industry of the mid-1970s.

APPLICATIONS FOR WIRELESS DATA COMMUNICATIONS

Ask WDC industlry representatives to profile a potential user of wireless technology. They will likely describe an executive who transfers vital data to an back from the office while relaxing on the beach in a remote vacation spot. Online searchers rarely are envisioned as target users of wireless communications systems although online searching is an application that can already be accomplished wirelessly. Today most applications for WDC fall outside of traditional communications tasks of information professionals.

Among the more common applications for wireless data communications are:

* Sales force data transfers: The insurance industry is a major user als local agents perform data tansfers to home offices from mobile field sites. …

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