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Comparing Wireless Devices That Support Wireless Networks

Tracking the changing device landscape keeps wireless professionals active, especially since mobile devices have two-year design cycles. Computer and telecommunications companies are busy developing the universal wireless Internet device to provide comprehensive voice and data services. New crossbreed devices such as the Handspring Treo have small RIM-like pager keys, PalmOS, and a cellular phone voice service. Kyocera has embedded PalmOS in its cell phone. Looking ahead, it's important to examine device form factors, the new chips, and the networks themselves.

As for form factors, we've considered the six basic models. The Internet surveys an ever-changing wireless device landscape (hop up to c|net for a fairly up-to-date review). Wireless developer portals like AnywhereYouGo.com periodically update device comparisons. Developer and vendor portals often provide advance wireless device emulators for early testing.

To really understand the destiny of wireless devices, look at the chipsets used to build them. QUALCOMM's 3G chips promise functions such as GPS location, sound processing, higher data rates, and Bluetooth.

One subtle but important distinction of web phones is that their production is entirely controlled by cellular carriers. It's unlike the PC market, where any company will produce a best-of-breed or lowest-cost device that can be connected to a network. Until the FCC deregulates the telecommunications manufacturing system, the customer will have to pick from the limited set of models tuned to select frequencies that a carrier determines. This has a deadening effect on what in the PC world would normally be a vibrant hardware market. Compounding the product decision, the cellular customer must also choose billing plans and make service decisions that are matched to the device. Software Defined Radio (SDR) has now been approved by the FCC, which may provide the technical basis for an open handset market.

Developers compare devices to decide which ones are appropriate for a wireless project. They also match the utility between devices and servers. Good server architecture lasts through many generations of wireless devices. Only when devices provide considerable differences, such as a GPS handset, do you need to reevaluate the purpose of your applications, the database content, and the application entry point to the server. But the device comparison is only complete when you evaluate the underlying wireless network and class of application being served. Beware of using web phones and handhelds in time-sensitive applications without complete knowledge of the signaling network. While paging networks treat data in a timely manner assuring delivery, web phones don't signal for data unless the network is designed for it. For cellular networks, data always takes lower priority than voice.

In my next article, "Understanding the Three Wireless Network Groups of the Internet," we'll look at the three kinds of wireless networks.

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