“The Internet is the killer app!” declared futurist George Gilder at the Wireless Apps ’95 show hosted by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association last fall in Las Vegas.

He was referring to the long-sought application for wireless data-a Holy Grail of sorts-that would be so pervasive and appealing as to break the industry out of vertical business segments and lead it into the vast consumer marketplace.

It’s easy to see why the Internet-access application is such an ideal champion for this quest. Driven by the graphical World Wide Web interface, the Internet has become the world’s largest computer network with more than 15 million users worldwide.

And there’s more than one way to surf the ‘Net. Companies throughout the high-tech ecology are liberally applying “Internet” to their business plans as if it were a magical incantation with the power to conjure up market share and profitability-or at least higher equity valuations. Not since the “Information Super Highway” reared its head three years ago has a telecommunications concept gained such rapid and powerful currency.

But despite the promiscuous usage of the concept, the Internet may in fact have an enormous impact on the future of wireless data, but only after you get past a big irony-because of bandwidth constraints, wireless networks are not suitable for browsing the very Web which has created all the excitement.

“Wireless data is not about downloading graphical images from the Internet. It’s about getting data where you couldn’t get it before. Wireless data is never going to be as fast as wired data,” noted industry consultant Andrew Seybold at a wireless data symposium he hosted just prior to CTIA’s recent convention in Dallas.

That point was driven home the next day during the general session by James Barksdale, perhaps the person in the best position to know.

Barksdale, formerly president of McCaw Cellular Communications Inc., is the president and chief executive officer of Netscape Communications Corp. which claims more than 70 percent of the Web browser market.

“Wireless can augment the Internet,” he said, because it provides “ultimate connectivity to information.” But he made clear he was talking about command-driven information searching using hypertext links, not graphical browsing using the Web.

Barksdale noted that the cellular and Internet industries are both networking businesses that benefit from what is known as Metcalfe’s Law where the value of the network grows with the square of the number of its users, providing the potential for exponential growth.

While wireless data’s modest transmission speeds limit its usefulness for browsing the Web, the anytime, anywhere access it provides may be of more strategic importance anyway.

Corporations are building private Intranets that provide a common access method to company data for their employees but keep out the public Internet users with “fire wall” software programs. The growth of Intranets is forcing a rush into remote access technologies, including wireless.

“Intranets are where most of my business is,” Barksdale noted.

Tom Heatherington, the president of Dallas-based Internet access provider PICnet said, “Intranets will drive the convergence of the Internet and wireless, especially for mid-size corporate users.”

Which is good news for wireless data carriers.

“The Internet is becoming so prevalent and so many companies are putting Intranets in place, we want to provide the wireless last mile for access,” said Steve Cullen, vice president for marketing and sales at AT&T Wireless Services, Wireless Data Division.

Indeed, the growing popularity of Internet/Intranets provides a shot in the arm for the wireless data technology AT&T has been championing, Cellular Digital Packet Data, which is optimized for the Internet’s TCP/IP protocol.

The Internet is not just having an impact on wireless networks, it also impacts end-user devices and the software applications that run on them.

Mark Porat, chairman and chief executive officer of General Magic Inc. said agent software technology like that being developed by his company for use on personal digital assistants eliminates the need for a graphical interface on the Web.

A software agent on top of an Intranet browser will allow users to search, filter, select and retrieve important information the way they want to receive it, he said.

Pacific Communications Sciences Inc. and Mitsubishi Wireless Communications Inc. have each introduced “smart phones” that combine voice telephony with CDPD data transmission technology. Both companies noted the benefits of Internet access as well as the applications software development capability of the TCP/IP protocol.

Motorola Inc.’s Cellular Infrastructure Group wants to make it even easier for cellular phone users to access information directly from the Internet using Code Division Multiple Access-based text-to-speech technology. The company said it will begin wireless Internet field trials with CDMA cellular operators in the United States and Asia starting this spring.

Ameritech Cellular Services isn’t waiting for digital or packet data technology to roll out wireless Internet access in its markets.

The company said it will introduce the MobilePartner wireless data package this month that includes a 19.2 kilobits per second PC Card analog cellular modem, InfoManager Internet software and one month of free Internet access service for an initial price of $150. Internet access costs $20 per month after the first month, which is in addition to the regular cellular airtime cost.

The paging industry was the first to take advantage of the Internet because it provides a means of getting alphanumeric messages onto the paging network.

Now, new paging-based technology may provide a means of controlling what threatens to become information overload and time management problems caused by the explosive growth of the Internet.

Paging software developer Ex Machina Inc. is introducing a product called AirMedia Live! in May to connect the Internet to off-line personal computers.

“The fundamental limitation to Internet applications today is that data has to be `pulled’ off the network. With wireless you’re always connected, people can reach out to you,” said Bruce Laskin, the company’s chief technology officer. “Protocol technology on the Internet doesn’t allow a server to reach out and touch a client.”

Laskin noted that the broadcast capability of paging provides a way to alert a user that something important is on the Internet. Wireless completes the loop, it alerts the user and then connects them to the web page that contains the information.

While wireless makes a user more accessible, it also can help them filter through the information deluge.

Laskin said AirMedia Live! will initially be available for desktop PCs. News flashes from the Internet will be displayed in a corner of the screen along with an audible cue. The user can double click the mouse to reach the site where the story resides.

He said a PC Card version will available for laptop computers 60 to 90 days after the desktop version is released.


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