| 3G: The
Coming Revolution in Wireless|
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
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.