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Wireless articles:

 The Wireless Web: DoCoMo's i-mode Leads the Way
 3G: The Coming Revolution in Wireless
 1,2,3 G! Evolution
 The 3G Solution
 It's a 3G World
 The Wireless World
 Going Mobile: Work in the Wireless Age
 Handset Heaven
 CommunicAsia2001: The Future Today

The Wireless Revolution
 3G: The Coming Revolution in Wireless
by Pamela Weintraub

Just when we think we have seen the last great communications revolution in the form of the Internet, another, even more radical, shift is about to come our way. The next wave will surround us with connectivity, not only to the World Wide Web, but also to our telephones, our sources of entertainment, our offices, even the appliances in our home, from wherever we are, 24 hours a day. What some people are calling the Big Bang of connectivity third-generation mobile telephony, or 3G has promised to free us from the confines of cables, fixed access points and slow connection for good.

Connected to the Internet continually, without the requirement of your logging on and off, 3G devices will fit in your pocket or hang from your belt. At first they may seem to be merely more efficient and reliable versions of the mobile phones we use today. But that perception will be short-lived. At 3G speeds, a pocket-size communicator could zoom beyond simple voice calls and messaging to include mobile video-conferencing, the routine use of video postcards, the delivery of CD-quality music, the storage and retrieval of personal information, as well as potentially endless variations on mobile electronic commerce.

In the near term, 3G phones will scan the Web at high speed, with pages modified for mini color screens. Among the perks: instant access to news, goods and services, banking and stock trading, multiplayer games and the ability to exchange multimedia messages with people all over the world. A user could videotape a scene through a digital camera in the phone, then send it to computers or other mobile phones anywhere in the world.

Later versions, say forecasters, will be operated by tapping a screen or issuing voice commands. They might enable us to attach scents to e-mails, and, all concur, will know where we are on Planet Earth at any given moment, providing us with directions from anywhere to anywhere in real time.

Gunnar Liljegren, director of corporate marketing for Ericsson, says that we'll be able to use our 3G mobile phone to book a court at the tennis club. "You'll be able to view the openings available on your screen and reserve the time and date with the push of a pen, and then pay the club by credit card through the phone, too."

Rod Nelson, chief technology officer at AT&T Wireless, predicts 3G will provide workers with immediate access to corporate intranets. Streaming media will enable users to pull out their phones and videoconference with colleagues or clients from the airport or the car.

But these specifics are just part of the Big Bang vision that industry architects propose. Third-generation is much more than Internet or wireless communications, according to the UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) Forum, a multinational group formed to increase awareness of 3G issues. Instead, the group says, next-generation wireless is a paradigm-shifting technology poised to create "new pathways for business, entertainment and information" through "the convergence of telecommunications, Internet and media."

One result will be a "trading revolution" driven by mobile commerce and the development of mobile, Internet-based electronic payment systems. Another will be the ability to control, coordinate and customize vast amounts of information from diverse sources through devices that work from any location on the planet and fit in the palm of your hand.

Given a multitude of such 3G applications, the size of the new industry is bound to be vast. According to a recent survey conducted by the UMTS Forum, the new technology will represent a cumulative market opportunity worth as much as $1 trillion for mobile operators between now and 2010. Telecom operators could see $300 billion a year in revenue from third-generation services by 2010, the report found, and individuals with 3G service could spend about $30 per month on data services alone. If predictions are correct, in fact, third-generation providers could see more revenue from data services including transmission of text and graphics than voice, with data representing 66 percent of 3G service revenue by 2010.

"Ultimately," says UMTS Forum chairman Dr. Bernd Eylert, "only 3G can deliver the capabilities and services necessary to support the expectations that tomorrow's users will have."

Pamela Weintraub was editor-at-large of OMNI and the editor-in-chief of OMNI Internet. She has covered science and technology topics for Discover Magazine, Redbook, Newsweek and Audubon, and wrote a weekly column on Internet business for the L.A. Times Syndicate. She is also the author of 15 books on science and technology.


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