Wireless data networking standards

Mike Jude, Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan
06 Jul 2010

A mere two years ago, while exploring 3G and 4G wireless data networking standards for business mobility planning, I recommended that enterprises pay attention to the standards most closely mapped to their mobility objectives as they worked with carriers to develop mobility plans. That's still good advice; but, since then, the standards associated with wireless data delivery have become clearer, while those associated with device operating systems have become murkier.
Standards not only define current network capabilities, they also define the extent to which network capability is expected to improve over time. EV-DO, for example, is widely available and fairly capable, but it is essentially a dead end with respect to its ability to evolve further. On the other hand, High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA) -- which includes two mobile telephony protocols, High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) and High Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA) -- is not nearly as available as EV-DO but is somewhat more capable. HSPA also has a clearly defined evolution path to 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and beyond.
The notion of wireless data networking evolution is critical to network planners, especially to ensure that solutions adopted and integrated into the business infrastructure do not have built-in obsolescence. Two years ago, Wimax was just beginning to be deployed, and LTE was on the horizon but not yet available. This concern has eased somewhat for enterprise customers as carriers have announced their network deployment plans.
Wimax is available in several major markets and may be the basis for rural broadband access. While LTE is in the early stages of deployment, Verizon's goal is to have a nominal amount of coverage by the end of 2010. For enterprises thinking about a mobility plan with the goal of delivering business mobility in a couple of years, the number of available choices for enabling it is increasing. In particular, if the mobility objectives for 4G business models can accommodate longer-term solutions, LTE seems to be the way to go.
But one open issue that poses a particular concern to business customers is whether operators' wireless data networks will provide voice service to mobile employees. Until the end of 2009, there was no clear answer; LTE had no widely accepted approach to carry voice traffic, and Wimax was created as a pure data channel. The GSM Alliance has endorsed an approach to voice delivery called VoLTE (Voice over LTE) that depends on IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) signaling within the carrier's network. The possibility of voice over Wimax is still muddled, but organizations are suggesting alternatives and workable approaches.
Another major change in the past two years is that, aside from delivering data, standards associated with the actual wireless device rather than the network have become more important. In particular, the operating system that lives on the mobile device can have a profound impact on how well mobility actually works for a business employee. Several standards are contenders in the smartphone arena: Apple's iPhone, Google's Android OS, Palm's OS and Microsoft's Windows Mobile. Each of these has proponents and is supported by various carriers. Of these, only the Android OS can truly be said to be open, although application program interfaces (APIs) for Windows and Palm are available.


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