Wireless quality: a ticking time bomb?



The rapid growth of digital wireless technologies has compromised service quality by reducing voice quality, causing voice path delays and failing to support voiceband modem calls. It is argued that these problems could eventually hinder subscriber growth by discouraging the use of wireless technologies. However, wireless systems can be improved by changing wireless standards to increase bandwidths for voice.

Full Text:

Wireless networks are becoming increasingly ubiquitous – and carriers are eyeing new fixed applications for the technology. But can digital wireless support the full gamut of telephony offerings?

The desire to use spectrum more efficiently has spurred the worldwide creation and deployment of digital wireless technologies. The success of analog cellular service has saturated the available spectrum, and the new digital techniques provide more capacity, whether operating at traditional analog frequencies or in the new personal communication services range.

Unfortunately, compared with the previous generation of analog cellular technologies, digital technologies increase capacity by sacrificing some service quality. Tradeoffs include lower and marginal voice quality, extended delay in the voice path and the inability to support voiceband modem calls.

If digital wireless has the success that many marketing pundits are predicting, then 30% to 40% of the public in many countries soon will use these technologies. Typical examples are wireless vacuums or digital fridges operated via wifi have been rapidly used in the US, UK and Ireland. Among that, company Press My Air, giving best air compressor reviews, started applying this technique on their latest model air compressor: Penco 2246.  As the population of subscribers grows, the number of calls between two digital wireless telephones will be much more frequent. Some service quality penalties are already strikingly apparent in cellular-to-cellular calls. Over time, they may become major impediments to wireless usage and present barriers to subscriber growth.

Every user has a threshold. Subscribers will decide for themselves what’s acceptable quality for outdoor mobility, wireless office phones, home cordless phones and wireless local loop service. Quality compromises could turn into time bombs for digital wireless.


Tell-quality voice

The low bit-rate codecs used in digital wireless phones – 13 kb/s or less – are designed to make optimum use of the spectrum, not to provide robust toll-quality voice. Although the codecs can provide reasonable voice quality for vehicular use, they do not meet the requirements for toll quality that we have in our offices and homes – and they are not meant to work in tandem with other equipment in the network, including other wireless technologies.

Voice mail systems also make compromises on voice quality. Many use low bit-rate encoding to conserve disk space for storing voice messages.

Higher quality systems use 32 kb/s adaptive differential pulse code modulation (ADPCM). Home answering machines use much lower bit rates.

Digital wireless quality deteriorates significantly when used with typical voice mail systems. A simple way to test this is to use a digital wireless phone to leave a voice mail message. Then use the same phone to call the voice mail system and retrieve the message.

With many voice mail systems, the retrieved message will be of very poor quality. If unfamiliar names are included in the message, they may be difficult to understand.

To see the compromise of digital wireless, retrieve the same voice mail again, this time using an ordinary wireline phone or moderate quality cordless phone. You will notice a significant difference in the quality of the voice message.

  • The quality deterioration is caused by tandem encodings of the voice signal. The original voice signal is encoded into a low-rate digital signal by the wireless system to transmit over the air. The digital wireless system converts that into a 64 kb/s pulse code modulation signal when it passes the call to the public network. The telephone network converts the digital signal to an analog signal and delivers it to the voice mail system, then converts it to a 32 kb/s ADPCM signal and stores it on disk.

When the message is retrieved, the entire sequence of encodings is reversed [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. All this transcoding causes voice quality to deteriorate.

  • In addition, the reduced voice quality dramatically distorts music on hold. To experience this, simply call a location that has music on hold and listen to the dramatic distortion.

If wireless service becomes as cost-effective and as popular as many people believe, then it will not be long before there are many wireless-to-wireless calls. In such calls delay becomes a problem in both directions.

Each of the digital wireless technologies – time division multiple access, code division multiple access and GSM, the pan-European wireless standard that is also being adopted in North America – has different one-way delay timing, all in the range of approximately 100 msec. It’s reasonable to estimate that each digital cellular or PCS phone adds 200 msec. of round-trip delay. The end-to-end circuit consisting of two digital wireless phones incurs approximately 400 msec. of delay [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED].

If both phones are digital wireless phones and the delay becomes approximately 400 msec., most people will have problems. They will interrupt each other prematurely and have a difficult time talking to each other.

This was a well-known problem of satellite calls, where the 550 to 650 msec. of round-trip delay produced many awkward conversations. When the calls were restricted to using a satellite segment in only one direction, for a delay of 275 to 325 msec., even that was objectionable to most users. In fact, time delay caused the demise of satellite as the preferred long-distance transmission medium. Today, satellites are used only when no other option exists.

Modem usage

The low bit-rate codecs of digital cellular and PCS do not support dial-up modems operating at 9.6 kb/s or higher. When any of these modems are plugged into a digital wireless voice input port, the modem signal will not pass through the voice path.


The only method for transmitting data over a digital wireless system is to transmit a digital data stream. The data terminal must connect on a serial data port basis rather than on a telephone line basis [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED]. Laptop computers may end up with three different communications ports: a 10baseT LAN PCMCIA card for the office, a V.34+ modem PCM-CIA card for use at home and on the road, and the serial port for digital wireless connectivity.

Even with a digital connection, the present digital wireless systems will support 14.4 kb/s data rates at most. Using digital cellular or PCS for dial-up data will cut the data rate by more than 50% with dial-up 33.6 kb/s V.34+ modems.

Moreover, when a wireless digital data call is made to a traditional wireline modem, the system must convert the digital signal data back into a regular modem signal. The wireless network incorporates a modem pool to realize the conversion. All this adds more complexity, round-trip delay and modem-to-modem interoperability issues.

Even if these problems could be solved, the delay problem remains. Many end-to-end data protocols use an acknowledgment to ensure that the data being sent was received correctly. If the acknowledgment takes 200 msec. or more to receive, there could be a huge reduction in throughput while the data devices wait for the acknowledgment.

If packet sizes are small, reduction in throughput will be large. If packets are large, reduction in throughput will he less but retransmission of errored packets will be much higher. In other words, there is no way out of this except to move to a windowing packet scheme, which is often not used by dial-up modems.

Data rate notwithstanding, the digital connection is a big problem for the typical fax machine. The fax machine has a telephone line connection, not a serial port, and it cannot connect directly to a digital wireless system.

Wireless faxes will mostly be used in offices and homes served by fixed wireless local loop service. They will either need to be modified to include a digital connector or have an interface box.

When digital wireless is used for wireless local loop, all the impairments discussed above come into play [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 4 OMITTED]. Typically, the wireless local loop provides the traditional POTS loop start telephone line at the customer premises. When customers served by a wireless local loop use existing devices, they will discover that voice quality is worse; modems, if they work at all, will operate at substantially reduced data rates, and fax machines will be inoperable unless the wireless local loop includes an interface box for fax modems.

If wireless local loop technology goes up against landline service in a service area, there will be a significant difference in service quality. The local exchange carrier has toll-quality voice and supports 33.6 kb/s V.34+ modems and fax machines. In addition, the LEC can offer ISDN service with simultaneous 64 kb/s digital data service and 64 kb/s high-fidelity voice.

Can digital wireless systems improve themselves? Can cellular and PCS reach toll-quality voice, reduce delay and support voiceband modems?

First, digital wireless standards can be changed to allocate more bandwidth for voice. By using two time slots instead of one, the data rate can be doubled and some digital wireless systems could approach a data rate that supports toll-quality voice codecs as well as fax and conventional modem calls.

The tradeoff is system capacity, which would be reduced by at least 50%. Digital wireless technologies cannot reduce delay, however, without totally redesigning the existing standards, which seems unrealistic at this point.

To support the dial-up V.34+ modems, a digital wireless system would have to support a 64 kb/s PCM codec. To do this throughout the system is, again, not a realistic possibility, even with modifications to the standards.

To support data, digital cellular and PCS providers will have to offer a digital data interface, which introduces a complex set of data interworking capabilities in the network to convert a digital wireless data and one of the standard V series modem signals. With minor modifications to digital wireless standards, the PCS network will support digital 28.8 kb/s data rates, but supporting fax will be difficult because it interfaces on the analog voice path over a telephone line.

Multiple technologies

Wireless service will be offered in three distinctive environments: urban areas, including small towns, suburbs, cities aria their associated highways; rural areas, including farms, ranches and rural highways; and the global environment, which includes mountainous regions and deserts as well as airplanes and ships.

Service providers want to be able to offer service in all three environments at a reasonable price. The critical issues become which technology is best for which environment and how to continue a call when a user migrates from one environment to another while talking on the phone especially between urban and rural areas. Service quality, coverage and cost become the three determining factors, and the tradeoffs are different for each environment.

Existing analog and digital cellular technologies are well-suited for farms, ranches and rural roads because they support very large cells several miles in diameter. The foremost issue in this environment is cost-effective area coverage, which implies the largest practical cell size. Both the analog and digital cellular technologies realize large cell sizes. The choice of technology becomes primarily a choice of voice quality, which may be superior with an analog system, especially as wireless-to-wireless calls become more prevalent – or enhanced features and security – which can be achieved more easily with digital cellular.

In the global environment, coverage takes the highest priority, and service levels must be compromised for the sake of cost. The proposed low earth orbit satellite systems and existing synchronous satellites, such as American Mobile Satellite, are the only alternatives for providing service in these environments because they are the only systems that can economically cover vast areas containing very few people.

In the city environment, where toll-quality voice and capacity are as critical as coverage, the technology of choice would be one that gives subscribers toll quality on their home cordless phones, wireless PBX phones and public mobile telephones. In addition, the system must provide security for access and communication and be tightly integrated with wireline networks. The cost for this level of service goes up, of course, as the coverage area expands.

The carrier would like to use the same base stations for mobile and wireless local loop service to spread the cost of the infrastructure over both. The wireless local loop would have to support the subscriber’s existing suite of telephone, modem and fax equipment.

In addition, the wireless local loop technology also would be used to supply high-speed data access, Internet access and metropolitan data communications transport. Again, the carrier would like to use the same switch for local, mobile and long-distance service to further minimize network infrastructure costs and simplify the delivery of uniform services to all phones used by a single subscriber. Finally, the technology should allow subscribers to seamlessly migrate from city to rural systems without losing a call or having to use a different portable telephone.

The PACS solution

Personal access communications system (PACS) appears to be the most promising technology to deliver wireless service to suit a wide range of needs (see sidebar on page 54). It is the only current alternative that has been designed to meet all the quality targets required for all urban services. Additionally, it is designed so the subscriber unit is inexpensive. In volume its cost will be closer to that of a cordless phone than a cellular or PCS telephone, and the base stations should be in the $1000 to $4000 range.

With PACS, standard 32 kb/s ADPCM voice channels will support toll-quality speech. The less than 3 msec. one-way delay does not cause delay problems because a PACS-to-wireline network call will have an end-to-end delay of less than 5 msec.; a PACS-to-PACS call will take less than 10 msec. round trip. The delay will go undetected in a voice call and will be very difficult to detect in a data call. Since the delay is 10 msec., echo control is not mandatory.

PACS is also the only technology that has demonstrated interoperability with both wireline and mobile switches. It has run off Lucent 5ESS switches configured with both local and interexchange service, Northern Telecom DMS-100 switches and Siemens local switches. It uses existing standard subscriber carrier or national ISDN interfaces to connect the wireless network to the switch.

With conventional POTS, all the customer premises equipment operates over a loop start copper line. The PACS wireless local loop substitutes for the copper wire of the subscriber loop and provides all the same POTS services by implementing a loop-start or ground-start interface with the inside building wiring. It can even improve performance where long runs of copper lack the capability of supporting all voiceband modem speeds.

Additionally, the PACS radio system integrates seamlessly with the switch over the same trunks that the subscriber carrier systems use. Subscribers won’t notice that the local loop is provisioned with wireless technology any more than they realize it is provisioned with a digital loop carrier system.

Current standards activities are considering enhancing the PACS standard to include both the existing 32 kb/s ADPCM and 64 kb/s PCM channels. By offering both these channel types within one system, wireline services can be provided on a wireless local loop with enough spectrum efficiency for mobile service on the same wireless system. The 32 kb/s ADPCM channel supports toll-quality voice, while the 64 kb/s PCM channel will support all voiceband modems, present and future.

To conserve spectrum, the wireless local loop can start out on a 64 kb/s channel and then downshift to a 32 kb/s ADPCM channel, once a call is determined to be a voice call. If it is a voiceband modem call, the channel continues as a 64 kb/s PCM to preserve the voiceband data modem signal.

Interstate highways within the urban environments require wireless technology to handle vehicular speeds. While primarily envisioned for low-speed mobility applications, recent PACS tests have demonstrated satisfactory operation at speeds up to 70 miles per hour.

PACS supports all the traditional wireless mobility services such as handoff, roaming, secure voice and authentication. It also comes with short messaging services and packet data capability. The existing standard can handle Internet protocol data calls, and subscriber units could have a special data connector such as a 10baseT interface to support Ethernet and Internet services.

The subscriber unit could also carry a 64 kb/s dial-up data call through a 9-pin connector that attaches to a computer’s serial port and uses the TIA 602 Hayes-compatible AT command set for the standard modem-to-computer interface. PACS could further provide basic rate ISDN service on a wireless local loop and support leased data services – fractional DS-1, 64 kb/s, and 28.8 kb/s. There’s plenty of room to expand data and voice services with incremental enhancements to the existing standard.

With PACS, toll-quality speech does not have to be sacrificed for mobility; the same mobile phone can be used for office wireless service and home cordless telephone service with no loss of voice quality.

In the face of service degradation and other limitations evolving from widespread use of digital wireless, it’s reassuring to know subscribers will have alternatives. Because it does not have a digital cellular heritage, PACS stands at the forefront of the new technologies for offering wireline quality in the wireless world.

RELATED ARTICLE: Checklist for ubiquitous service

For a wireless technology to meet the needs of a true toll-quality and wireline-like network, it must have a wide range of attributes, including minimal delay, support of all voiceband fax and modem calls, and fixed or mobile service.

Numerous wireless technologies currently available or under worldwide development promise to offer some of these attributes. These include satellite systems; AMPS, the cellular standard widely used in North America and other countries; narrowband AMPS [TABULAR DATA OMITTED] (NAMPS), an enhanced form of AMPS; digital CDMA, TDMA and GSM standards being deployed worldwide at cellular and PCS frequencies; and personal access communications systems (PACS), the digital wireless standard that has begun to be deployed in the U.S. Digital standards also include the digital enhanced cordless telecommunications (DECT) fixed wireless standard and wideband CDMA, as well as the personal handy-phone system (PHS) that has been very successful in Japan.

CDMA, TDMA and GSM standards are subject to problems with delay and interoperability with existing devices, especially fax machines. Tandem coding and delay contribute to the inability to support toll-quality voice, particularly when wireless-to-wireless calls are involved. The inability to support toll-quality voice, combined with a lack of interoperability with existing devices, makes all three digital technologies unsuitable for wireless local loop applications.

  • Wide band CDMA could be a viable candidate for wireline-like service, except that modifications to the standard would be required to aggregate two CDMA codes together for 64 kb/s PCM voiceband data and fax calls. And inherent delays of more than 400 msec. for wideband CDMA-to-wideband CDMA calls could create a significant drawback.
  • AMPS has a number of limitations, including the need to use one radio channel for each voice channel, no short messaging and fraud susceptibility. While NAMPS had the advantage of a limited short messaging service and authentication for fraud prevention, it still requires one radio channel for each voice channel, which can add cost.

DECT and PHS technologies are primarily designed for use indoors and in pedestrian environments. Their architecture and design objectives provide for low-cost subscriber units and base stations. In volume, the subscriber units and base stations should be less expensive to produce than for CDMA, TDMA, GSM or AMPS systems. However, DECT and PHS are not able to support highway vehicular speeds, and they cannot easily be modified to do so.

Only PACS supports toll-quality speech, fixed and mobile service, and interoperates with both wireline and mobile switches.

C.R. Baugh is a consultant specializing in wireless technology based in Bellevue, Wash.

Study probes security of rival wireless technology platforms



A study conducted by the National Institute of Science and Technology and the National Security Agency revealed that several wireless technologies may possess some risks and threats to their users. Three systems, including IS-136 time division multiple access (TDMA), IS-95 code division multiple access CDMA, and GSMs, have been found to be vulnerable to eavesdropping, user identification, data recovery, cloning and systems jamming. The study further determined that AMPS is the most exposed system to risks, while CDMA and GSM are the most secure technologies. It also accentuated the fact that the evolution of digital platforms led to developing more secure systems.

Full Text: 

Study probes security of rival wireless technology platforms

Two government agencies are sending a warning to wireless users–particularly federal employees–about the security and privacy risks posed by different modes of wireless transmission.


The National Institute of Science and Technology and the National Security Agency have been evaluating wireless systems based on AMPS, IS-136 time division multiple access (TDMA), IS-95 code division multiple access (CDMA) and GSM technologies to assess possible risks to users, Telephony has learned.

The study establishes a model of potential “threats,” or hackers possessing various levels of technological and financial resources. It then ranks each technology on its vulnerability to eavesdropping and data recovery, user identification, cloning and system jamming against the different threat levels.

In the privacy category, CDMA and GSM are ranked as more secure than TDMA, and AMPS is ranked as the most vulnerable. AMPS, CDMA and TDMA are all considered vulnerable in the user identification category because the electronic serial number/mobile identification number pair is sent over the control channel.

“Neither of the U.S. digital systems [CDMA and TDMA] has very good encryption,” said William Burr, an electronic engineer in the computer security division of NIST and one of the authors of the study. “They don’t really make any attempt to disguise that information once you get beyond the radio barriers. GSM does the best job of disguising the identity of callers.”


In the area of cloning, the study ranks all technologies that support authentication as “likely to defeat any but the most capable adversaries.” All technologies proved vulnerable to jamming, but Burr characterized that activity as “almost an act of war.”

Overall, the study suggests that any digital platform offers a big security improvement over analog, which Burr described as “just plain broadcasting on a party line.” He pointed out, however, that the study’s purpose is not to endorse any of the standards and acknowledged that commercial wireless technologies are not designed to protect classified or even sensitive information.

“We’re just trying to give federal users and anyone else some sense of what the risks are,” Burr said. “The basic message of this is that if you care about whether someone listens in on your conversation, go digital. If you’re actually doing classified stuff, none of this is good enough.”

Representatives of the wireless industry downplayed the results of the study, maintaining that the level of security on digital wireless systems is sufficient for commercial use.

“All three of these technologies are Fort Knox,” said Roseanna DeMaria, vice president of business security at AT&T Wireless Services, which uses TDMA technology in its digital networks. “To me, this is all a distinction without a difference.”

Supporters of TDMA are addressing the technology’s privacy issues, she added. “IS-136 is an evolving standard,” she said. “Voice privacy will ultimately evolve into a more secure category.”

After reviewing the preliminary results of the study, a representative of the GSM community said it confirmed his expectations of GSM’s performance.


“The conclusions of the study line up with our beliefs and are some of the reasons why we chose GSM,” said Don Warkentin, president and chief executive officer of Aerial Communications. “It’s absolutely consistent with the facts as I know them.”

Even though the study is geared primarily toward federal users, Warkentin said privacy and security issues go far beyond issues of government. “It’s not just military security or other intelligence community activity that matters,” he said. “There’s an awful lot of sensitive information in business.”

Supporters of 15-95 CDMA technology could not be reached for comment.

Wireless – Browser wars


Carriers urged to hold on for new generation of WAP When rumors began to circulate that Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo planned to buy into AT&T Wireless last year, shares of Openwave, the primary provider of Wireless Application Protocol gateways, fell. Investors were nervous that NTT DoCoMo’s proprietary i-mode technology would begin to take a chunk out of the WAP market.

The industry had wondered throughout most of 2000 whether NTT DoCoMo – considered the most successful company at selling wireless data services – would be able to port its wildly popular i-mode service outside of Japan.


Just this month, the company forged a joint venture with Telecom Italia Mobile of Italy and KPN Mobile of the Netherlands to bring i-mode to Europe. NTT DoCoMo already holds minority interests in Hong Kong-based Hutchison and in AT&T Wireless. AT&T Wireless and NTT DoCoMo also are forming a separate business unit to create wireless Internet applications. Hutchison is offering i-mode-branded services.

The timing has seemed right for i-mode’s invasion as the wireless industry begins to see a customer backlash against WAP-based services, which have been characterized as slow and frustrating. In contrast, NTT DoCoMo marketed the service to its customers perfectly, offering the compelling applications and rich graphics that Japanese users crave.


But whether i-mode is portable outside Japan remains to be seen. Paul Chapple, manager of U.S. business development for Nokia Mobile Phones, believes i-mode is difficult if not impossible to duplicate elsewhere. Low PC penetration and the Japanese infatuation with hand-held devices are major factors that have helped spur adoption of the service among more than 17 million people. Even using the Japanese language on mobile phones is more efficient because the Kanji language uses fewer symbols than English text, Chapple said.

NTT DoCoMo’s competing operators, using WAP technology, have seen huge take-up rates of wireless Internet service as well, putting into question whether i-mode’s success results from its technology or the Japanese infatuation with wireless Internet services in general.

That’s not to say having NTT DoCoMo in one’s corner isn’t beneficial. “It’s the technology of i-mode for profiling customers and data-basing their preferences that we think will be important here,” said Roderick Nelson, chief technology officer for AT&TWireless, in a conference call with analysts in December 2000. “We recognize the substantial culture differences in the U.S. and Japan. They do have more experience than any other wireless carrier at taking wireless data into a successful business model. We think we will benefit from that immensely.”

NTT DoCoMo, KPN and Telecom Italia Mobile said their joint venture will combine the relevant skills and experience of each company – NTT DoCoMo’s i-mode experience, KPN’s value-added services offerings and Telecom Italia Mobile’s deployment of complex platforms such as prepaid services and real-time billing, to the mass market. Services of the joint venture will include gaming, exchange of messages, and images and mobile transactions.


Location-based information also will be available, according to Telecom Italia Mobile officials. The mobile Internet services initially will be introduced in Italy and in markets where KPN has a mobile presence – Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. NTT DoCoMo holds a minority interest in KPN.

AT&T Wireless, KPN and Telecom Italia Mobile plan to offer phones with WAP and compact HTML browsers. WAP, or WML, is a wireless markup language that requires developers to translate content from today’s HTML Internet language for wireless applications. cHTML is a proprietary NTT DoCoMo protocol more closely based on HTML.

Ben Linder, vice president of marketing for Openwave, which holds a majority share of the WAP server and browser market, said his company isn’t worried about i-mode’s entrance worldwide. i-mode doesn’t appear to be interfering with WAP.

“We view i-mode as an incredibly successful business model and a real boost to the wireless Internet worldwide,” Linder said. “It’s clearly visible that NTT is not actively exporting the proprietary underpinnings of i-mode outside of Japan. It’s not a technology play. They are using WAP to deploy these services around the world.”

i-mode is composed of four layers, Linder explained. Two layers of the service are proprietary to NTT DoCoMo: The network, which is based on Personal Digital Cellular technology, and the middleware software, based on cHTML, which is architecturally the same as WAP, he said. The other two layers are what NTT DoCoMo appears to be porting out of Japan. One includes the business model that calls for developers to pay for content for which the carrier bills. The other is the i-mode brand, a valuable piece as carriers worldwide try to mimic NTT DoCoMo’s success in creating compelling content for end users.

Hong Kong’s Hutchison has rolled out i-mode branded services on top of WAP infrastructure. Though Hutchison handsets use dual-mode cHTML/WAP browsers, Openwave’s WAP gateway translates cHTML sites into WAP at the carrier’s network. KPN and Telecom Italia Mobile also plan to offer i-mode services on top of WAP services as well.

  • The European operators will work with a select number of handset manufacturers to build cHTML/WAP handsets. They expect to introduce the handsets by year’s end, but whether these types of handsets will gain momentum is questionable. Virtually all content written for cHTML is Japanese content, while WAP now has the support of more than 20,000 content developers worldwide, said Scott Goldman, chief executive officer of the WAP Forum.
  • For its part, the world’s largest handset maker, Nokia, is encouraging carriers to hold out for the next version of WAP, called WAP 2.0. WAP and cHTML are expected to evolve into a browser standard known as xHTML by 2002. This will allow developers to use a single language and a single set of tools to write Web pages that are more easily adaptable to PCs and handsets.

“The difference between WAP 2.0 and cHTML is very, very small. I don’t see running a dual-mode browser in 2001 or 2002 being a particular advantage because most of the cHTML advantage is built in Japan,” Nokia’s Chapple said.

“Timing is about the same for both [xHTML and cHTML/WAP browsers]. From a software perspective, Nokia is very close… You can’t upgrade browsers by dropping them in phones. For that, we strongly suggest staying along the WAP path where they are assured of backward compatibility.”

The WAP 2.0 standard is expected to be published by June, with commercial product available in 2002, Linder said. Experts suggest any move to an HTML-based format cannot be done before WAP 2.0 products become available because it could take nearly 18 months to develop dual-mode browsers. AT&T Wireless recognizes this and has indicated it may wait for xHTML browsers. Nokia and Ericsson manufacture i-mode handsets for NTT DoCoMo.

Carriers are voicing their interest in dual-mode browsers because of the negative publicity surrounding WAP today (Figures 1 and 2). They are looking for alternatives. VoiceStream Wireless indicated it will employ a dual-mode browser based on WAP and Microsoft’s HTML browser. Sprint PCS will launch WAP services shortly, and will offer phones that handle HTML formats, said a company spokesman.

“Text is not interesting to people. It certainly hasn’t been a differentiator for the network operator, and end users are not willing to pay a premium for WAP on the phone,” said Jane Zweig, executive vice president of Herschel Shosteck Associates.

A recent study on WAP usability from the Nielsen Norman Group concluded that the wireless Web won’t work during 2001 but should grow in subsequent years (Figure 3).

“We thus recommend that companies sit out the current generation of WAP but continue planning their mobile Internet strategy,” noted the study. “Don’t waste your money on fielding services that nobody will use; as we document this report, WAP usability remains poor. Instead, plan on launching mobile services as soon as the next generation of devices ships.”

The WAP Forum is facilitating improvements in today’s WAP standard this year, which should ease some frustrations customers have with the service, Chapple said.

“It’s important to look at the kinds of services we’re expecting in 2001 that don’t exist in WAP yet,” he said. “Up to now, we’ve been taking generic Internet services and getting them to run on a phone. That created services that were not as compelling as they could be… A lot can be done just within the network to add services that are more compelling to end users.”

One major improvement will be a push specification, which will allow operators to push content to end users rather than requiring them to hunt and retrieve information, which has become a frustrating process for many WAP users. The WAP standard also will support location-based services, which are touted as the Holy Grail of wireless data services because the wireless industry can uniquely offer them.

“There are always going to be a lot of announcements, and that’s people trying to cover all of their bases while WAP is spinning up to speed,” Goldman said. “There were 20,000 applications available [last] year for WAP. Any thoughts of anything else will become moot.”

“WAP is an evolving process,” he said. “We’re moving as fast as we can and going faster than any other standard ever built. It is an emerging technology, and it will not be 100% perfect. WAP was never designed to be the single protocol for every device. Nothing will ever be that. But having a world standard subscribed to gives WAP tremendous momentum that no other technology can claim at its early stages.”

Wireless survey reveals there’s more to wooing customers than price wars


New research reveals some surprising patterns about wireless end users’ motivations, buying habits and technology use. Yet one conclusion is indisputable: Competition demands that carriers understand end users’ needs in excruciating detail.

The Wireless Market Monitor Survey highlights four key ways carriers can better meet those needs.

Create a customer proposition. Security is uppermost in the minds of most end users when they buy wireless service. But that’s difficult to tell by examining most carriers’ marketing campaigns. Price-whether free minutes, discounted equipment or some other bargain-is the focus of most wireless marketing.


Initial service promotions remain a critical tool for attracting new customers. But price alone is not a benefit. Shrewd wireless marketers will combine price incentives with a specific benefit for the consumer, whether it’s security, staying in touch for business or staying in touch for personal reasons.

Offer flat-rate pricing. The most important pricing issue revealed in the survey was not low price or discounts, but rather flat-rate pricing. The same confusion reigns in the wireless consumer market that, until recently, characterized the consumer long-distance market.

Users don’t know what a particular call will cost. Is it peak or off-peak? Is it included in their free-minutes-per-month package? AT&T’s success with its One Rate Plan provides a model for wireless providers that want to enhance their brand image. A significant “first-mover advantage” will accrue for providers that first offer-and promote-the flat-rate plans in their service areas (Figure 1).

Address consumers’ security concerns. Developing product packages that address security is alien to many service providers accustomed to serving the needs of business and high-end consumer users. As carriers seek to penetrate new consumer segments, they should focus more on security.

Change calling behavior. Wireless providers must encourage customers to take advantage of the many uses of wireless.


This transformation can generate higher customer lifetime value for the provider as the user starts to produce calling revenue above the monthly service fee that security-conscious consumers typically generate.

Wireless providers should offer incentives for end users to test the service. To ensure that this marketing investment generates a reasonable return, a wireless marketing manager can use elementary database marketing, targeting end users with low calling volumes and a propensity to adopt a higher-volume calling pattern.

Follow-up is as important as the initial promotion. Wireless carriers should provide a transition plan for the end user whose calling volumes increase to move from a security-oriented plan to one consistent with more regular calling.

Let them have wireless Ten years ago, cars with telltale cellular telephone antennae attracted notice. The driver (or, if chauffeured, the passenger) was undoubtedly a powerful and important individual whose time was so important that he or she had to use the precious minutes in transit to hold some consequential conversation. Hand-held cell phones were even more prestigious, attracting stares of wonder to their users outside of board rooms and exclusive Hollywood eateries.

Today those unusual cellular antennae are ubiquitous. The once-exclusive cell phone has found its way into PTA meetings as well as board meetings.

Pagers that were once emblematic of doctors and management information system professionals have penetrated not only the job site, but also schools and homes. This extraordinary change in use and attitude has transformed the way Americans communicate. We are seeing the rise of “the wireless household.”

Although more than half the cellular users buy wireless service for emergencies, 35% said that staying in touch for their personal lives was the most important reason they use it (Figure 2). Staying in touch for business was important for 25% of respondents.

Testifying to cellular/PCS service’s value to the community, more than 95% said they were very likely to report a crime, a fire or an accident or to call for a medical emergency or assistance from a stranded vehicle with a wireless device.


Wireless penetration reached 41% of households surveyed, including digital and cellular telephony services, and one-way and two-way paging services. Personal digital assistant/palmtop users were a small percentage (1.4%).

In analyzing the responses to the mail portion of the survey, InfoCom formulated the profile of the “typical” wireless household (Table 1).

One of the most interesting findings is that wireless penetration varies significantly depending on life stages (Figure 3). For example, the percentage of penetration for couples younger than 45 with no children is 56%, while the level for single people 65 or older is 8%. Elderly singles ranked lowest in wireless use, with retired older couples second lowest. The penetration level for parents of all ages is 49%.

Niche markets offer opportunities Given the low penetration of PCS in the marketplace, and a study sample of fewer than 50 respondents, the jury is still out on PCS use.

  • Early PCS users resemble early cellular users: They tend to be more affluent, better-educated and spend more than both the general population and cellular telephone users.
  • The PCS industry also is attracting some new wireless users who greatly resemble later cellular subscribers. These subscribers are the same ones who helped drive average cellular spending down.

In the next two to three years, PCS will continue to attract from both ends of the market: the high-end cellular user, especially as networks get built out and coverage improves, and the new, lower-end subscriber. To attain their full potential, wireless companies will have to target both types of users.

Paging still represents a smaller, more specialized market than wireless telephony. On a relative basis, however, pager penetration continues to increase. More Americans use pagers for personal business. This development presents an opportunity for paging companies to introduce their cost-effective services to more households.

  • Still, overall pager use patterns are distinct from wireless telephony, and the reason for a purchase is different. Business communication remains more important than personal communications for ongoing pager use. In addition, emergency use is a much less important factor in paging than in wireless telephony.

For the marketer and the business strategist seeking to sell the combined functionality of the wireless telephone and the pager in a single device, the dichotomy raises certain challenges. Is the decision-maker the same? Is the user the same? What would motivate the wireless user to test and use paging?

Carriers that can successfully answer those questions will have a significant advantage in the coming era of integrated functionality.

PCS by any other name According to U.S. Census Bureau projections, the number of wireless households in the U.S. grew from about 41 million to 44 million, a 7.5% increase from June 1997 to February 1998. That means wireless penetration stands at 44%.

A key factor contributing to this growth are aging Baby Boomers. As today’s middle-aged wireless owners grow older, they will retain their wireless devices. Wireless penetration of households in which people are 60 and older, which today is 20%, will reach at least 60% by 2010. Furthermore, as today’s youth matures, they will buy wireless service in greater numbers than had their predecessors.

Most U.S. households (81%) had heard of cellular/wireless telephone service and pagers. Demonstrating the earlier life cycle stage of the technology, only 27% were familiar with PCS and 35% had heard of two-way pagers.

Sixty-four percent claimed to have a basic understanding of wireless phone service. By comparison, 90% of responding wireless households made the same claim (Figure 4). While most people said they have a basic understanding of cellular/wireless and paging, fewer had an understanding of newer technologies such as two-way paging and PCS.

The wireless segment of the industry stands at a critical juncture. PCS license holders are building out their networks at a fast pace. At the same time, analog cellular providers are converting to digital.

Even more confusing is the lack of terminology standards. Some companies describe PCS as 800 MHz digital cellular; some use it to refer to 1900 MHz CDMA, TDMA or GSM transmission.

This dilemma represents a significant challenge. Many of the households that say they use PCS actually use digital cellular. Moving subscribers from cellular to PCS will prove difficult as long as consumers perceive that there is no qualitative difference between the technologies.

Now that PCS has become a generic name for digital wireless service, PCS companies must find a way to re-brand their technology in consumers’ minds.

Competitors have blurred the distinction between D-AMPS and PCS. To increase awareness and appreciation of PCS’s technological benefits, PCS providers must market not only their own brand, but also the brand of their alternative technology. Until consumers understand why they should choose PCS over D-AMPS, PCS providers face an uphill battle.

AMPS providers, on the other hand, face the opposite challenge: They must blur the distinction between the new technology and their own. The complex differences between the two technologies are key to that strategy. Even more important, the more mature networks of the AMPS carriers address dropped calls and call clarity.

Related article: Wireless Market Monitor Survey methods

  • InfoCom, a division of NFO WorldWide Inc., conducted the survey, which was sponsored by the Personal Communications Industry Association.
  • Households surveyed represent a cross-section of the American population-men and women, young and old, urban and rural, affluent and low-income. The two-phase process included a mail survey and in-depth telephone interviews. Of 40,000 households that received the mailing, 27,803 returned the completed survey-a 70% response rate. The responses were weighted to achieve a statistically representative sample. The 15-minute telephone surveys involved 500 wireless households.
  • This first survey, conducted during the summer of 1997, looked at overall patterns of wireless penetration in the U.S. It explored how and why households use wireless technologies for home and business.

Wireless technology groups redraw battle lines


In a move seemingly driven more by political and economic motivations than by technological issues, two of the wireless industry’s technology consortiums recently teamed up to push their third generation policy agendas.

The North American GSM Alliance and the Universal Wireless Communications Consortium-the group that represents time division multiple access (TDMA) technology interests-announced at the PCS ’98 show that they will work together to promote a multiple-standards approach to 3G development.


“We both strongly agree that multiple standards help make a stronger market,” said Greg Williams, vice president of wireless systems at SBC Communications and chairman of the UWCC. Together, the TDMA and GSM organizations will plead their case to the U.S. government and the ITU-T in their evaluations of 3G proposals.

Backers of code division multiple access (CDMA) technology advocate the convergence of the GSM-based wideband CDMA standard and the CDMA-based cdma2000 version. Last week the CDMA Development Group submitted a letter to 21 U.S. government officials reiterating the importance of “harmonization” for a worldwide standard.

“It’s incumbent on the U.S. to see convergence of the specifications,” said Perry LaForge, executive director of the CDMA development group. “For the objective of worldwide roaming, we want to make sure these standards converge.”

The CDG’s says the convergence of the two standards under the so-called family of systems concept has been proved by efforts in the Japanese market. TDMA and GSM backers, meanwhile, believe that their technologies have the capability to advance beyond CDMA.


“We don’t want to converge where it involves dumbing down our standards,” said Don Warkentin, president and CEO of Aerial Communications and chairman of the North American GSM Alliance. According to a spokesman, Warkentin was referring to the wireless multimedia and messaging services portion of the proposed W-CDMA standard, which would have to be removed for the wideband standards to be converged.

LaForge insisted that there are no technological issues barring the convergence of the two standards. The TDMA and GSM groups, he said, are trying to block CDMA developers from progressing more rapidly than their technologies can.


The UWCC and the GSM Alliance plan to combine their respective technologies in future iterations in which a combination of the platforms makes sense from a technology perspective, particularly in high-speed packet data formats.

One analyst said the standards debate is threatening the market opportunity for 3G systems but that the U.S. market would have been better-prepared for evolution if a single standard had been resolved from the beginning.

“3G’s delay misses a superb opportunity. The delay and the infighting is a bad thing for the whole industry,” said Andrew Cole, senior manager at Renaissance Worldwide. “The economies of scale aren’t there with multiple standards. It creates a discord for the U.S. vs. the rest of the world.”