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The Intelligent Wireless Web:
Connecting Your Personal Space to the Web

by H. Peter Alesso

The Intelligent Wireless WebImagine living your entire life within the confines of a specified region that surrounds you. You could call this region, your Personal Space. As you travel from home to work this designed region travels with you just like a 'bubble.' If you look around this space, how many electronic devices would you see? How many wires would exist? With every new electronic device, you add to the 'cable tangle' around you both at the office and at home. But, now, wireless technology can add connectivity to these devices without the encumbering tangle.

Wirelessly connected devices create a network infrastructure called a Wireless Personal Area Network (WPAN). The obvious application of a WPAN is in the office workspace. With this technology, your essential workspace electronic devices will be wirelessly networked together. These could include your desktop, mobile computer, printer, handheld device, mobile phone, pager, etc. Your personal devices could, for example, wirelessly update your appointment calendar on your office PC. You would have greater flexibility in arranging your office because peripherals would no longer need to be within cable length of the PC. The growth of home automation and smart appliances could also use WPAN applications, just as in the office.

WPAN will also allow devices to work together and share each other's information and services. For example, a Web page can be called up on a small screen, and can then be wirelessly sent to a printer for full size printing. WPAN can even be created in a vehicle via devices such as wireless headsets, microphones and speakers for communications. Additional, wireless devices may eventually be embedded throughout public places to provide continuous connectivity as you travel within your Personal Space from one location to another.

In today's environment, information is one of our most valuable commodities and small, cheap and yet powerful devices, may offer universal accessible to vital information. Thus a lifetime of knowledge may be accessed through gateways worn on the body or placed within our Personal Space.

As envisioned, WPAN will allow the user to customize his or her communications capabilities enabling everyday devices to become smart, tether-less devices that spontaneously communicate whenever they are in close proximity.1

With billions of various devices already in use today, developing multipurpose communications that can receive and transmit compatible signals is a daunting challenge. At the local level, Personal Area Networks (PAN) form device-to-device interfaces at work and at home. At the global level, we must adapt an interlacing complex of networks to connect compatibly to a large number of possible device-to-device combinations. The key problems with the small devices available today are; their screens are small with low resolution, their power and memory is limited, and their bandwidth inadequate.

Small mobile wireless device computing environments are not able to run large, complex operating systems and applications. Instead, distributed applications, which gain their capabilities from collections of separate devices working in concert, will be necessary. Unlike desktop computers small mobile wireless devices use a variety of processors and operating systems and are programmed in a variety of languages.

One solution to output problems may be larger screens. The extra space could come from a flexible screen that unfolds like a map. Plug it into a pocket PC and you have a workable product. But pocket sized foldable screen technology is still a few years away. An alternative is "electronic ink" technology being developed at E. Ink of Cambridge MA. Electrostatic charges orient white microscopic particles suspended in tiny spheres. Unfortunately, electronic ink is also several years from practical use. Another approach keeps the display small but offers good resolution using magnifying lens mounted on monocular units or goggles. Sony's Glasstron and Eye-Trek from Olympus both give the viewer an image equivalent to a 132-centimeter screen seen from two meters away.

If output over small screens looks troublesome, input problems are even harder. Just think what it's like using keypads from your cell phone to send typed messages. Certainly several cellular-phone manufacturers, including Motorola and Nokia, are trying fledgling speech recognition already in the form of simple "yes" or "no" responses, or in the form of one-word names of stored phone numbers.

Speech recognition and speech synthesis offer attractive solutions to overcome the input and output limitations of small mobile devices, if they can overcome their own limitation of memory and processing power through the right balance for the client-server relationship between the small device and nearby embedded resources. The essential components for achieving this balance are new chip designs coupled with open adaptive software. The new chips may provide hardware for small devices that are small, light weight, and consume little power while having the ability to perform applications by downloading adaptive software as needed.

The success of mobile communications lies in its ability to provide instant connectivity anytime, anywhere in a practical and user-friendly manner. If the convergence of the mobile wireless and fixed information networks is to have significance, the quality and speeds available in the mobile environment must begin to match those of the fixed networks. How to build this broadband wireless network is the difficult question. Telecom companies will need to spend billions of dollars to catapult today's narrowband (9.6 kbps) cell-phone infrastructure to achieve broadband capabilities.

Working against broadband access is a fundamental law of data communications. Back in 1948, Claude E. Shannon of Bell Labs, found that the maximum amount of data that can be transmitted through any channel is limited by the available bandwidth (the amount of radio-frequency spectrum it occupies) and its signal-to-noise ratio (the signal to be communicated versus the background interference). The need for high-speed data services and high quality voice transmission under roaming conditions represents significant challenges for wireless communications.

The invasion of digital communications into the wireless world is already in progress. Analog cell phones were found to be useful as a tool, but it is digital phones that have become a mainstay of wireless communications throughout the world.

Today, you can buy a book from Amazon.com, reserve tickets for a concert, or access your company's intranet right from your mobile phone. But technical limitations make it a tedious task. Wallets, such as, Microsoft's Passport and Yahoo!Wallet, simplify and speed up data entry by automatically sending the pertinent information to an e-tailer when a transaction is complete. However, mobile-commerce is more attractive when viewed from the perspective of a longer time horizon.

There are several mobile competitors influencing different regions of the world. The most widely used cellular network technology is GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), a Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) system in both Europe and Asia. Unfortunately, TDMA is less adaptable to the Internet's bursty data flows. A key alternative, Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), faces strong opposition in many quarters.

Consider for example, Sprint PCS which has meaningful advantages in coming wireless data services. Sprint PCS committed to building a national network using CDMA. The first upgrade for Sprint PCS will give customers always-on connections to the Internet or corporate networks at speeds of up to 144 kilobits per second--more than double the speed of the fastest dial-up modem. By the end of the year, the division will complete a second upgrade that will double the network's top speed to 288 kilobits per second, with a jump to movie-capable 3-megabit speeds tentatively set for 2004.

Now you can pull up a stock quote, read headlines, send and receive e-mail - while traveling on the Sprint PCS Network. Sprint PCS Wireless Web Connection allows you to use your Sprint PCS Phone™ in place of a computer modem. Whatever you've done before by connecting via a telephone wall jack, you can now do with your Sprint PCS Phone and Connection Kit. With Sprint PCS Wireless Web Connection, your computer connects over the Sprint PCS Network, giving you the freedom to access information when and where you choose.

For example, you can Browse the Web, send e-mail, and synchronize all your electronic schedules and contact managers while away from the office. Sprint PCS Wireless Web Connection can give you access to services you've connected to before - without the wires.

The Sprint PCS Wireless Web Browser gives you the power to access a growing number of specialized sites. You may have a browser on your computer, like Netscape Navigator™ or Microsoft Internet Explorer™; now Sprint PCS Phones come equipped with a MiniBrowser, the UP.Browser™ from Phone.com.

In all these many and varied ways, wireless devices are connecting your own Personal Space to the Web.

1Alesso, H. P. and C. F. Smith, "The Intelligent Wireless Web", Addison-Wesley Professional, ISBN: 0201730634, Dec. 2001.

H. Peter Alesso is an engineer with an M.S. and an advanced engineering degree from M.I.T., along with twenty years of research experience at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). As Engineering Group Leader at LLNL, he led a team of physicists and engineers in a wide range of successful multimillion-dollar software development research projects. Peter has extensive experience with innovative applications across a wide range of supercomputers, workstations and networks. His areas of interest include computer languages, algebras, graphs, and Web application software. He has published several software titles and numerous scientific journal and conference articles.

Editorial Note:
This article was excerpted, with permission, from
"The Intelligent Wireless Web"

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