Wireless-Enabled PDAs and Smart Phones

When prepping your network for wireless-enabled PDAs, it's important to develop constructive policies that provide a reasonable amount of user choice within a manageable environment capable of supporting enterprise apps.

September 24, 2004

5 Min Read
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The Phone as Computing Platform

Mobile computing and communications devices--PDAs and cell phones--are converging. PDAs are being equipped with voice capabilities, while virtually all cell phones are being enhanced to support emerging wireless data networks, including CDMA2000, GPRS and EDGE. Essentially, these devices are sophisticated computing systems that you should consider standardizing, just as you would desktop and laptop computers. You'll need to strike a responsible balance between giving users some choice and ensuring that the device is appropriate for enterprise wireless data applications.

While some vendors try to hide it and others flaunt it, all these new converged devices include powerful multitasking OSs with advanced network subsystems. Consumer-oriented phone manufacturers often use proprietary OSs on their devices, making them unsuitable for enterprise data apps. However, many newer converged devices rely on widely supported commercial OSs.

Worldwide, the Symbian OS has the greatest presence in the smart-phone market. With the backing of industry heavyweights?226-130? including Nokia, Sony/Ericsson and Samsung, the Symbian platform is hard to ignore. Unfortunately, it's somewhat lacking in third-party application support. Complicating matters are the multiple variations of the Symbian OS. Thus, while the Nokia Communicator 9000 Series and Sony/Ericsson P900 smart phones each rely on Symbian, your apps may need tweaking to run on both.Microsoft supports three separate mobile OSs, all based on Windows CE. Its pure PDA OS is Pocket PC 2003, on which many vendors support wireless data services, with some even supporting voice. Manufacturers trying to optimize for the phone market while preserving full PDA capabilities often rely on Pocket PC Phone Edition. Meantime, Microsoft is pitching the Windows Mobile-based Smartphone, an OS designed for mobile phones, to phone makers like Motorola and Samsung.

The platform with the broadest base of app support is PalmOS. But there are two major variations of it--PalmOS 4 and PalmOS 5--and some subtle application-compatibility issues between the two. In addition to licensing its OS to Kyocera, Samsung and others, Palm offers its own smart phone, the Treo, through its palmOne division.

It's worth noting Research In Motion's role in this market. Blackberry devices are based on RIM's proprietary OS platform, which has been optimized for mobile e-mail services. Newer RIM devices also support cellular voice and data. RIM has done an excellent job delivering enterprise-class messaging and management, but support from third-party developers is limited.

Although PDAs often are used with PC cradles or hardwired network interfaces, the clear trend is toward enabling these devices for wireless services, with an add-on network interface card (PC Card, Compact Flash or SD/IO) or embedded interfaces. If the goal is to support voice and data, you usually need to support Wi-Fi WLAN standards (mostly 11b for now, but 11a and 11g in the future) and evolving cellular-data standards. In addition, Bluetooth plays a key role in this market.

Most devices based on Pocket PC provide effective Wi-Fi support, and many include embedded 802.11b NICs. The news is not good for PalmOS users: Only a limited number of Palm devices include integrated Wi-Fi support. In addition, while SD/IO Wi-Fi NICs are available from SanDisk and plamOne, these interfaces are not supported on all PalmOS devices that support SD/IO. Finally, though the Symbian OS can support Wi-Fi, devices with integrated WLAN services, like the Nokia Communicator 9500, are just beginning to emerge.Given the inherent mobility of these converged devices, support for cellular data services is both important and complex. That's because cellular data standards lie in two camps--CDMA2000 and GSM. GSM dominates in the global market, but the competition is much more even in the United States. Verizon and Sprint use CDMA2000; AT&T Wireless, Cingular and T-Mobile use GSM. Nextel relies on a niche technology called iDen.

CDMA2000-compatible converged devices support a variation known as 1XRTT, which typically delivers throughput of 50 Kbps to 70 Kbps. But upcoming converged devices are expected to support the EV-DO standard, which delivers throughput of 375 Kbps to 625 Kbps --close to broadband quality. Now available only in limited markets as a PC Card option for notebook computers, EV-DO is due to roll out nationwide in 2005 or 2006.

In the GSM camp, data services are delivered by all providers using GPRS (30 Kbps to 40 Kbps throughput) and by AT&T Wireless and Cingular using EDGE (100 Kbps to 130 Kbps throughput). Again, today's EDGE NICs are designed for notebook computers, but you can expect that technology to make its mark as an embedded smart-phone technology by late 2004 or early 2005.

Cellular providers offer a limited number of converged devices. It's not uncommon to see a new device introduced by a carrier on an exclusive basis, then made available by competitors later. For example, Sprint offered the Treo 600 about six months before Verizon did. Likewise, the iPAQ h6315--Hewlett-Packard's first smart-phone device--will be available initially only through T-Mobile.

Although cellular data services are a key element of converged mobile devices, don't underestimate the value of Bluetooth support. This technology has been the victim of too much early hype, which led to unfulfilled expectations, but it's an ideal cable-replacement technology for mobile devices. Bluetooth's two primary apps in this environment are support for wireless headsets and support for connectivity between notebook computers and mobile phones. The latter lets you use your cell phone as a wireless modem for your notebook without having to physically connect the devices. This is very cool, but be aware that service providers usually charge more for the luxury of connecting your notebook than they do for native smart-phone data services.Dave Molta is a Network Computing senior technology editor. He is also assistant dean for technology at the School of Information Studies and director of the Center for Emerging Network Technologies at Syracuse University. Write to him at [email protected].

Comprehensive list of Symbian-based smart phones

List of current Microsoft Smartphone devices

List of PalmOS smart phonesComprehensive list of Pocket PC devices

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