RealTime IT News

Wireless Networking: A Work In Progress

Reporter's Notebook: LOS ANGELES -- Wireless data use has arrived, or so says The Wireless Association.

On the second day of the CTIA Wireless & Entertainment conference, the trade group said data service revenues for the first half of 2006 were $6.5 billion, a 70 percent increase over the first half of 2005.

Overall, the Wireless Association projects overall wireless revenue in 2006 to approach $60.5 billion. The survey also found that wireless customers burned up more than 850 billion minutes in the first half of 2006, up 27 percent over the first half of 2005.

Wireless data revenue now accounts for almost 11 percent of all wireless service revenues and continues to grow as a percentage of the wireless market.

The main method of communication is text messages. Wireless carriers delivered more than 12.5 billion text messages in June 2006, a 72 percent increase over the 7.3 billion messages for June 2005.

Texting is far and away the most popular data use for cell phones. During the keynotes here at the show, the audience was asked to text their messages to the moderator, rather than engage in the time-honored tradition of queuing up at a microphone to ask questions at the end of the talk.

Online retailer LetsTalk did a survey of teens, a major consumer of wireless services, and found that 49 percent considered texting to be the most important feature of their cell phone.

Next was the camera, with 25 percent saying it was most important. Music playback was a mere 5 percent and video playback scored only 2 percent.

That should come as no surprise as most of the phones don't support it. As detailed in Monday's Smart Phone Summit, phones with that capability are expensive and not widely available in the U.S.

Only about 11 percent of mobile phones in the U.S. can support video, and only 1 percent of mobile phone subscribers pay for video service, according to a survey by JupiterResearch.

If there's a take-away from CTIA, it's that the mobile market doesn't have standards for much of anything it does or offers.

There are three different networks: GSM , CDMA   and IDEM.

There are five different operating systems for smartphones -- Symbian OS, Linux, Microsoft Mobile, Palm and RIM -- and every phone maker has a different user interface.

And there's nothing even close to a uniform method of security.

Verizon Wireless figured this out with its VCAST system for streaming music and video. All of the phone makers had different interfaces, making it difficult to roll out the system.

During the second-day keynote on entertainment, Lowell McAdam, executive vice president and COO of Verizon Wireless, discussed having to put his foot down with the phone makers.

"We think the number one obstacle to customers adopting mobile phones is the different interfaces. There's not enough memory on a phone after the operating system to support multiple interfaces," he said. VCAST was finally able to get traction after Verizon forced the vendors to standardize on one interface.

There doesn't seem to be a common way to do security, either, as witnessed by the sparsely attended session entitled Securing the Mobile Device: An Industry Perspective.

For starters, as Jon Green, senior product manager for security solutions at Aruba Networks pointed out, "IT people have far too much to cover as it is. It is being pressured in this area but they have no training on how to deal with it."

This is causing a problem because more than a few employees simply buy their own wireless device and use it at work, often times using work data. This is problematic on numerous fronts: bad guys sniffing the network; most wireless devices have no encryption or security, and if it's lose or stolen, the data is as good as gone.

The solution, he said is really tight centralized control and management of wireless devices. "It isn't easy on the users, but it's a way of saying if the info on the device is something I have to control, then I have to control the device," said Green.

This echoed the earlier keynote in which moderator Walter Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal pressed McAdam about Verizon's wireless system being so tightly locked down, allowing only companies that set up some sort of commercial arrangement.

"It's called capitalism," McAdam said.

But he added that if people downloaded a third-party application or accessed an outside service, and it didn't work or there was a problem, Verizon would get the complaint, not the third party.

Perhaps most telling about the state of wireless? The wireless Internet connection in the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC) was spotty at best.

The show was confined to the west hall and if you want too far, there was no connectivity to be had. Reporters in the pressroom were all grumbling about the constant outages.

Yet when I left and checked into a Best Western to call it a night, the wireless Internet came up immediately, strong, and clear, and never went out. Most likely the culprit at the show was a combination of the cavernous LACC and all the people using it.

Still, it reflects that wireless networking has some serious scaling issues. Back to the drawing boards.