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GSM: the start of the next 100 years war

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Are we prepared to get in?

Ali Akbar
Oct 04 - 10, 1999

Mostly, people think of voice calls when they think of cellular phones. On the contrary, you can connect your GSM-enabled phone to your laptop computer and send or receive e-mail, faxes, browse the Internet, securely access your company's LAN/intranet, and use other digital data features including Short Messaging Service, mainly because of digital capability of GSM.

GSM, Global System for Mobile Communications, is a digital cellular radio network operating in over 200 countries worldwide including Pakistan by Mobilink.

The special interest is the capability of the GSM network to be used for data computing. As, it uses radio frequencies, GSM is a wireless platform, in contrast to technologies which require connecting one's laptop modem to a telephone outlet to use the land-based telephone network. Hence, users of GSM can be fully mobile, and do wireless data computing anywhere, without worrying about adapters, telephone jacks, cables, etc.

The unique roaming features of GSM allow cellular subscribers to use their services in any GSM service area in the world in which their provider has a roaming agreement. That means the phone you use in Pakistan could work in UAE, Germany, Australia, Finland and even China, depending on your provider's roaming agreements.

GSM-enabled phones have a "smart card" inside called the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM). The SIM card is personalized to you and you alone. It identifies your account to the network and provides authentication, which allows appropriate billing.

With GSM cellular phone you can get connected to your office, without wires, anytime, anywhere. Turn waiting time into email or fax time -- at the airport, train station, and the dentist's waiting room. Turn any place into a productive work space: a hotel room, a client's office or home, the factory floor, a loading dock, a cafe table -- anywhere.

Data Applications

Mobile data has changed the ways in which many different groups of employees operate, since its uses are not specialized to any particular industry but have general benefit across the board. Users in any industry can configure their own requirements for data services easily and cost-effectively.

Messaging

The ability to send and receive email, faxes and short messages over the wireless networks is in great demand by mobile staff. The Strategis Group of Washington predicts 15.6 million wireless e-mail users by 2001, with individual country growth rates constrained only by the rate of deployment of networks and data facilities. Messaging can be done using mobile PCs with handheld computers, or via short message services (SMS) on the mobile phone display which is currently limited to 160 characters at a time.

The major e-mail vendors, including IBM/Lotus Notes, Microsoft Mail and DaVinci eMail offer wireless capability on their products.

Mobile Internet Surfing

Because GSM is digital network, it provides the most ubiquitous and robust wireless data connectivity in the world. You can connect with transmission speeds of 9.6kbps and up. Simply dial your Internet Service Provider and you can access the Internet.

Mobile Fax

Need to get a fax when you're away from the office? Just bring your GSM phone and your laptop PC and you have a mobile fax machine.

Short Message Service

Short Message Service (SMS) is an integrated paging service that lets GSM cellular subscribers send and receive data right on their cellular phone's LED display, up to a maximum of 160 characters. For instance, you can send a text message from your mobile phone to any GSM capable mobile phone anywhere in the world for just on local call. Combine this with your laptop, and you can receive urgent email, fax notifications, news and stock quotes -- all without even dialing the phone. You can receive messages even when you are making a call. This is a special feature of GSM and is available in most of the countries. But currently Mobilink does not offer this service in Pakistan.

Accessing Corporate LAN on the Move

Many if not most mobile professionals could benefit from access to their corporate systems including LAN databases, files, and their corporate intranet, as well as access to the Internet for email.

Many cellular operators in cooperation with Internet Service Providers are already offering such services. Mobilink can create such offers in conjunction with ISPs in Pakistan in order to create new market segment. The services are being implemented in ways to keep the costs down and usage easy, such as short dial-up procedures and fast connections via ISDN or V.110.

Electronic Banking and E-commerce

Direct telephone banking has been emerging since the early 1990s in North America, Europe and in parts of Asia Pacific, as the expense of branch sites made a high street presence in all towns and cities too costly. The natural development trend is to enable access to account information when mobile.

Banking is made easy by the use of the SMS capability on a mobile PC or cellular handset to interrogate your account.

GSM data provides a wealth of opportunity for transferring a variety of information to the user on the move. From simple email to video and multimedia, almost anything is possible. The future will bring even higher bandwidths, larger markets and with them lower costs. However in order to achieve the goal of mass market data use the applications must be developed with mobile in mind. Users will not want to bother with redialing just because of a dropped call, and they will not be happy to pay for two timeslots when one would suffice if only the data was pre-compressed and used an efficient transfer protocol. We need to look at the system as a whole, starting with the users needs and ending with the data transport mechanism.

Terminals will be very important to the success of mobile data. Whilst there will be roles for all types of data terminal, the most successful ones will provide unified mailboxes, not one button for fax, another for internet email, yet another for X.400 and a fourth for SMS.

The future is bright for data, if we get it right!

The long-term goal is the UMTS vision, quoted from the UMTS Forum Regulatory report as:

"The Universal Mobile Telecommunications System, UMTS, will take the personal communications user into the Information Society of the 21st century. It will deliver advanced information directly to people and provide them with access to new and innovative services. It will offer mobile personalized communications to the mass market regardless of location, network or terminal used."

Data/Fax-Over-GSM

Data-over-cellular is accomplished by SS 7 (Signaling System Number 7), a robust set of techniques or protocols designed to provide fast, efficient, reliable transfer and delivery of signaling information across the GSM network and to support both switched voice and non-voice applications. SS 7 is essentially the multimedia specification of GSM, providing data (data/fax capabilities), sound (voice mail) and images (fax mail) to the user.

The SS 7.05 subset of the protocol defines something called SMS, or short message services, whereby text messages of up 160 characters can be passed to and between GSM mobiles, just like an alpha-numeric radio-pager.

Does analogue modem work over the GSM networks?

No analogue modems - which use special non-voice high frequency tones to communicate with one another - will work with any GSM network - other than the Option 2-in-1 GSM/Telkom modem. Quite simply the reason is that the networks, being digital, have been programmed to only pick up or "sample" voice tone frequencies and discard non-voice tones.

Because it's been optimized only for speech, the CODEC that the GSM networks use assumes that only speech is being transmitted and is therefore unable to process anything else - like the frequencies or tones generated by analogue modems.

Stripping bits of data from a modem transmission is of course suicidal for data communications since they require a continuous link. Hence you'll get very little if any data transmitted along the digital GSM networks using analogue modems. But if you do by some miracle manage to do so, you're only going to be able to transmit at 75 bps, or about 0.8% of the data transmission capacity of the network and an analogue modem.

What hardware do you need?

Doing data and fax over the digital GSM cellular networks requires firstly, a GSM cell-phone that supports data and fax and a special piece of hardware called an adapter (the "modem") which will act as an interface between the phone and your PC and/or fax machine.

These data/fax adapters are of credit card size PCMCIA (PC Cards) which plug into a special PCMCIA slot in a notebook or PC.

The GSM-only components of these data/fax interfaces are not actually modems as we traditionally understand them: the "modem" component you need to send and receive data actually resides at the network headquarters (also known as the Mobile Switching Center, or MSC), using a special modem-like device called an IWU, or Inter Working Unit.

Data is sent digitally from the PC via the special hardware adapter, through the phone and then through the air to the IWU. The GSM phone and the data/fax interfaces thus act as one extended digital "serial" or "air-interface" link between the PC and the IWU, which now acts as the Analogue Modem.

Do you need separate incoming numbers for receiving data and fax calls?

Yes. If you want to receive data and/or fax via GSM, you must get and use the incoming numbers provided by your GSM network. You will thus have separate incoming numbers for Voice (your current cell-phone number), Data at 9,600 baud, Data at 2,400 baud, and Fax at 9,600 baud.

Someone sending you data or fax will thus have to dial one of these incoming numbers to do so. To send you a fax via GSM, they must thus use your incoming fax number etc.
The reason for this additional numbering that not all the analogue fixed-line exchanges/switches can process and route the digital data that the digitally-based GSM networks and cell-phones use. Thus the digital data must be fed through an appropriate incoming voice, data, or fax number.

Bluetooth Technology: The Convergence Of Communications And Computing

Imagine that you are in a meeting with your notebook computer open in front of you. Suddenly, the cursor begins to blink and a new e-mail message is displayed on the screen. Your computer isn’t plugged into anything, your cellular phone is in your briefcase under the table, but you are receiving e-mail over the wireless network. How is this possible?

Your notebook is communicating with your cell phone, which in turn is communicating with the wireless network through a revolutionary new radio chip developed through a collaboration of the computing and communications industries—code name "Bluetooth."

All of the new wireless voice systems being implemented today are based on digital technologies, as are data-only networks. Meanwhile, most analog wireless networks are being upgraded to digital. Digital networks are better suited to data, and most are capable of providing for both voice and data. Even so, it is still necessary to purchase a wireless network adapter or modem as well as proprietary cables and connectors for the computer in order to use these networks for wireless data.

The Bluetooth communications device is a small, low-powered radio in a chip that will "talk" to other Bluetooth-enabled products, eliminating the need for cables or infrared beams to connect portable computers, cellular phones, printers, fax machines, etc. It will be possible to connect enabled devices on a one-to-one or one-to-many basis.

The Communications Industry

Bluetooth also appears to be a win-win for the communications industry. Communications companies will no longer have to build external cables and PC Cards to enable their wireless phones and network cards to interface to computers. A Bluetooth module built into the phone or wireless network connection points will enable it to send and receive information to and from any computer so equipped.

Since Bluetooth is capable of short-range voice communications as well, it will also be used as a hands-free voice interface for cellular phones, a speaker-phone link, and a link between the phone and other electronics in an automobile. Bluetooth technology enables multiple devices to communicate with each other using a common set of standards when they are within range.

Built-in Devices

The "compelling" reasons for incorporating Bluetooth are to wirelessly connect mobile computers to cellular phones, and to establish small workgroups quickly and easily. As the number of Bluetooth-equipped devices grows, so will their uses. Printers, fax machines, LANs, and more will be able to communicate with each other.

On the communications side, cellular phones, two-way pagers, wireless data-only terminals, and most other two-way wireless-capable devices will be Bluetooth-equipped. Bluetooth will provide the "glue" for the merger of wireless and computers. And it provides some great new voice options as well.

A Look at Bluetooth

Bluetooth technology is being developed through the combined contributions of the members of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group founded by Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Nokia and Toshiba. As of October 1998 about 200 members had signed up. The Bluetooth SIG is seeking to make it available worldwide in high volume production of devices including mobile computers, handsets, PDA’s, network access points and many other devices.

The Bluetooth wireless technology will use one of the available unlicensed, yet virtually worldwide radio bands—2.4 GHz—and it can support both voice and data. Everything needed to be Bluetooth-capable will be contained in a module that will cost between $15 and $20 at first. Driven by volume, the cost should drop to about $5 by 2001.

The low-power radio module can and will be built into mobile computers, mobile phones, printers, fax machines, and network connection points. While its primary focus is to be the wireless connection between mobile computers and/or between computers and wireless network devices such as cellular phones, Bluetooth supports data speeds of up to 721 Kbps (including a 56 Kbps back channel) as well as three voice channels.

The primary advantage of this system is that computer vendors can build it in. They don’t have to worry about choosing a wide-area network to support, or stocking an assortment of modules for several networks. And their engineers need only minimize interference for one radio on one frequency band! Further, enabling their computers for wireless data communications will not require a PC Card slot or option bay cavity—these will remain available for other uses.

Bluetooth has been designed to solve a number of connectivity problems experienced by mobile workers and consumers. And it does so in a simple, neat package that is inexpensive—the OEM only pays for the cost of the module. The system is available royalty and license free.

GSM on course for quarter of a billion customers by millennium

Early indications hint that 1998 was yet another record breaking year for global GSM take-up, said the GSM Association, as year end totals are expected to show 135 million customers - exceeding early industry predictions by as much as 15 million.

"We believe that around 65 million customers signed up for GSM services in 1998, almost doubling the previous year's total, taking GSM to 45 percent of the world wireless market, or 62 percent of the global digital market," said Richard Midgett, Chairman of the GSM Association.

"On the back of this, we predict with confidence that the 1999 year end total could soar as high as 250 million."

GSM impact once again stretched far and wide in 1998. By the mid year point, China became the largest single GSM market in the world, maintaining its lead to reach more than 18 million level by close of the year.

On the back of this, the GSM world is seeing incredible levels of customer uptake for data and text messaging services. Last year in Germany, for example, customer usage for Short Messaging Services (SMS) reached phenomenal average volumes of around 100,000 messages per hour. It is predicted that this scale of growth will continue to surge throughout the next few years.

As Growth of Cellular and PCS Peaks
Wireless 3G Gets Underway

The wireless communications industry is about to switch gears as subscriber growth becomes focused on digital cellular and PCS technology after 1999. This opens the door to third generation (3G) of wireless communications, a generation which will move the world closer to a global standard for true integration of services. This signals the start of the next 100 years war. The third generation is going to move us toward one worldwide standard that allows a user to receive voice and data between any two points. I can be a subscriber in Pakistan, traveling in UAE and taking telephone calls and e-mails from Japan without a third-party bill.

The end of the 20th century marks the beginning of a wireless revolution so powerful that not one but several new markets are being defined before our eyes. Corporations, driven by fear of "perfect competition" where neither buyers nor sellers can effect prices, are looking to wireless technology as a strategic weapon that gives them competitive advantage. By the year 2002, medium and large firms will spend over $117 billion on wireless equipment and services, more than double the $54 billion they spent in 1998.

Although prices are dropping for wireless equipment and services, the market is expected to broaden in size and scope. The significant growth factors will be:

More firms will adopt wireless technology

Corporate telecommunications budgets will grow as markets broaden

The wireless component of telecommunications budgets will grow as corporations seek strategic advantage over competitors

The total number of mobile workers will increase

The Strategic Advantage Factor

The rise of remote access is helping drive the adoption of wireless technology. Wireless data allows customer service, sales executives and other members of the team to perform where customer demands dictate and with minimal restriction. This will be a key revenue grower for companies with 100 or more employees, and will provide a wide marketing opportunity for wireless equipment, wireless applications development and wireless services.