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3G today: Broadband on every corner
[April 24, 2006]

3G today: Broadband on every corner

(InfoWorld Electronic News Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)Mobile 3G wireless has had more ups and downs than a Six Flags thrill ride. First, it was built up as a fast-approaching broadband panacea that would keep us connected, outdoors and in, all the time. Then it plunged into ridicule and ultimately obscurity thanks to infrastructure delays, the economic downturn, and competition from coffee shop Wi-Fi.

And today? With little fanfare, 3G has clearly added a new, if pricey option for those who need high-speed access on the go.

Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel have already rolled out their EvDO (Evolution Data Optimized) service -- Verizon to more than 180 major metropolitan area markets and Sprint Nextel to 219. Claimed download speeds average 400Kbps to 700Kbps, and both companies are quickly ramping up for near nationwide coverage by the end of 2006 or mid-2007. Cingular is off to a semirespectable start with 16 metropolitan area markets and promises to connect most U.S. metropolitan markets by the end of 2007. T-Mobile has no 3G service yet but promises a fast ramp-up in 2007.

Meanwhile, 3G speed is accelerating. Cingulars HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access), already in deployment, is supposed to deliver sustained downlink speeds as high as 1.1Mbps by the end of 2006, and EvDO Revision B could achieve 14Mbps with new client chip sets within a couple of years.

Although 3G services still cant be considered cheap, prices have moved into range, averaging $60 per month for unlimited data using a notebook and PC Card, with enterprise volume discounts, discounts for bundled voice and Wi-Fi, special pricing for shared buckets of megabytes, and lower monthly pricing if you use a phone or BlackBerry device as a modem. If you compare this with the average charge of $8 to $12 per day for Wi-Fi in hotels and airports, youre in right the ballpark for frequent business travelers.

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Hardware options have also multiplied, with certain Dell, Lenovo, and Sony notebooks offering built-in 3G modems, and a number of smartphones offering the same. In many cases you get both 3G and Wi-Fi. Verizon Wireless recently unveiled the first 3G-enabled BlackBerry device, which can double as a 3G modem for a notebook. Intel recently announced an agreement with the GSM Association to publish guidelines for building SIM cards into notebooks that would allow users to connect to both 3G networks and Wi-Fi. And of course theres always the notebook PC Card option from a variety of vendors, including Kyocera, Option NV, Sierra Wireless, and Sony Ericsson.

The 3G premium

Does this mean that 3G is finally taking off in the enterprise? It depends on whom you talk to. There are few applications, aside from certain verticals, that have the need for 3G performance, says Ken Dulaney, vice president for mobile computing at Gartner. The typical business traveler leaves the house, drives to the airport, and has maybe a few minutes at the airport to get on a Wi-Fi hot spot and do some work. He uses his BlackBerry to get e-mail. After getting off the plane he typically rushes to his destination. For these uses, Wi-Fi hot spots and BlackBerrys are fine.

Dulaney adds that the price of 3G is still high for most enterprise budgets and that carriers have been somewhat misleading, quoting theoretical 3G speeds in unloaded cells and conveniently limiting their quotes to downstream performance when upstream is typically much slower. And he cautions that notebook-embedded 3G undoubtedly means trouble switching carriers and added expense when carriers upgrade.

Julie Ask, research director at Jupiter Research, agrees. 3G is great for the few frequently traveling white-collar executives who can convince IT the cost is justified. She places 3G enterprise percentage uptake somewhere in the low single digits but adds that 3G is generally a more reliable connection than Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi typically has too much interference, and [its] on and off. 3G is a closed network.

As you might expect, the carriers, which have invested billions in their 3G networks, are more bullish. What were seeing with mobile broadband is the development of the real-time business that really does operate in real time, says David Deady, product manager at Sprint, adding that IT decision makers understand 3G benefits and are leading the charge. We did some research and found that 20 percent of businesses and 28 percent of large enterprises are committed to going forward with mobile broadband, Deady says.

Carriers point to a host of specialized apps -- such as law enforcement, insurance adjusters processing claims and sending back digital photos of car wrecks from the field, or realtors allowing customers to browse the Multiple Listing Service as they drive together from site to site -- that can benefit from 3Gs mobility and high bandwidth. Not to mention sales force automation and fleet administration. Deady spoke of a bank setting up an ATM at a street fair using wireless broadband and new suburban stores and small offices using 3G for an immediate shared fixed broadband connection, rather than waiting weeks for a wired connection.

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Were seeing considerable growth in all categories, says Claude Mitchell, director of marketing for the enterprise segment at Verizon Wireless. Mitchell sees 3G being used primarily for Web searching and accessing corporate e-mail remotely and believes a lot of companies are pushing out their sales and field force automation and other enterprise applications to recently offered Windows Mobile 3G-enabled Treo 700w and UTStarcom XV6700 smartphones. The question is, Which of these applications really require the bandwidth that 3G offers?

Is 3G for me?

Frequent travelers are the most obvious enterprise customers for 3G. True, opting for a monthly Wi-Fi hot spot plan is much cheaper, typically just $30 per month, with a one-year contract. But a Wi-Fi subscription assumes the road warrior will have easy access to a hotel or coffee shop with that service -- or will be willing and able to navigate the complicated, frequently expensive roaming schemes of rival Wi-Fi providers.

According to a Gartner study published last fall, the fragmented nature of Wi-Fi access is clearly an impediment: Less than a quarter of all business travelers used Wi-Fi hotspots while traveling. The primary reasons for this were log-on hassles and cost -- or uncertainty about cost options. Perhaps the greatest advantage of 3G is the simplicity of a single, transparent log-on from anywhere within the sphere of coverage.

Special deals can also make the 3G option attractive. Make sure youre familiar with the discounts and benefits that can come with bundling voice and 3G or 3G and Wi-Fi and/or BlackBerry service. Cingular and Sprint offer Wi-Fi subscription bundles, whereas Verizon Wireless currently does not. Other factors to consider: All three vendors offer volume discounts, although none of them would give any concrete examples. Some enterprises may prefer going for pricing plans that offer shared buckets of megabytes transmitted, which could turn out to be less expensive than an unlimited data plan

Other deals to consider if you expect 3G usage to be only occasional is paying less per month for the privilege of using a cell phone or, in Verizons case, a BlackBerry as an external 3G modem. The hitch is that you cant use these devices for anything else, such as voice or e-mail, while theyre working as a modem. Verizon offers the use of a BlackBerry as a modem for an extra $15 a month, which is a bargain.

Another option is to share a 3G connection among several users. Although carriers are not terribly keen on shared usage (Verizon Wireless has been known to threaten disconnection), you can also find 3G to Wi-Fi and Ethernet routers from vendors such as Junxion and Kyocera and soon from Linksys. These can make a decent shared mobile or small-office connection.

The carrier question

After youve decided on 3G, the choice comes down mostly to coverage, performance, and pricing. Youll want to consider upload as well as download speeds. Verizon claims 60Kbps to 80Kbps; Cingular claims 100Kbps; and Sprint, 50Kbps to 144Kbps. Sprint has particularly good airport coverage.

International roaming agreements are another factor to consider. If your users do a lot of international travel, GSM-based carriers such as Cingular enjoy a slight advantage. Cingulars Option GlobeTrotter GT Max card supports tri-band UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System)/HSDPA and quad-band EDGE (Enhanced Data GSM Environment) technologies, so you can stay connected in Europe and Asia with the same card you use in the United States. Verizon Wireless offers a second PC Card for use abroad on Vodafone networks. Sprint has no international roaming agreements yet but plans to announce coverage in Mexico and Canada later this year.

Then theres the hardware. PC Cards vary in how well they hold onto weak signals, as well as the quality of connection software support for VPNs, authentication, and session management they provide. Some combine 3G with Wi-Fi and, on the GSM side, offer tri-band functionality for international use. If youre more interested in PDAs and smartphones than notebook access, consider the relevant hardware each carrier offers.

Carriers also provide some enterprise-level services, such as applications that offer session persistence as users move in and out of range, along with their 3G. Verizon Wireless offers its own branded business mobile e-mail solution, Wireless Sync, in addition to BlackBerry service, a field force management application, and a device management system that can remotely wipe data clean on a stolen device. Sprint is the only carrier we talked to that offered shared 3G services using a router. These can be used in the field or in a truck.

You can expect coverage to be roughly equivalent among the carriers by the end of 2007. The questions then become whether prices will fall or rise and how well will carriers handle increased capacity. For now, however, things look very promising. In our random testing with Sprint and Verizon Wireless, we found excellent performance that felt very similar to an airport Wi-Fi connection. And the freedom that 3G provides can be addicting. As with broadband and Wi-Fi, after youve tried 3G, its hard to turn back.

Cingular Wireless
3G standard: HSDPA
Average performance: Claimed download: 400Kbps to 700Kbps (ramping up to 550Kbps to 1.1Mbps), bursts to 1Mbps; claimed upload: 100Kbps
Present 3G coverage: 16 metro markets: Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Boston; Chicago; Dallas; Houston; Las Vegas; Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; Salt Lake City; San Diego; San Francisco; San Jose, Calif.; Seattle; Tacoma, Wash.; Washington
Projected coverage: Most major markets by end of 2006
PC Cards: Sierra Wireless AirCard 860 PC Modem, $99.99 with two-year contract; Novatel U730, $99.99 with two-year contract; Option GT Max (International Roaming, tri-band UMTS/HSDPA, quad-band EDGE), $99.99 with two-year domestic or one-year Global Connect plan
PC vendors with embedded 3G notebooks: Dell, Lenovo, Sony
3G-enabled PDAs, smartphones: Not yet
Wi-Fi hotspots: 6,400
International roaming: Yes, more than 100 countries, including in Europe and Asia; international-rate plans
Service charges: Unlimited data in the United States, $79.99; introductory two-year unlimited data in the United States (with any voice plan $39.99 or higher), $59.99; unlimited data in United States and 100MB in Canada and Mexico, $109.99; unlimited data in the United States and 100MB in Europe and Asia, $139.99; variety of monthly data plans starting at $19.99 for 5MB; pooled data plans starting at $22.99 for 5MB; Wi-Fi starting at $19.99 when ordered with 3G data plans; voice bundles starting at $19.99 for voice and $5 off data plan
Other enterprise services: Solutions for wireless corporate e-mail and application access, field service automation, fleet management, sales force automation (with Sendia and, insurance, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, supply chain, and health care

3G standard: EvDO
Average performance: Claimed download, 400Kbps to 700Kbps with 2Mbps peak; claimed upload, 50Kbps to 70Kbps with 144Kbps peak
Present 3G coverage: 219 major metro markets, 470 airports
Projected coverage: 220 million people by second quarter 2007
PC Cards: Sprint PCS Connection Card PC 5740 (from UTStarcom), free with two-year contract; Sierra Wireless AirCard 580, free with two-year contract; Novatel Wireless MerlinS620, free with two-year contract
PC vendors with embedded 3G notebooks: Itronix, Panasonic Toughbook
3G-enabled PDAs, smartphones: Sprint PCS Vision Smart Device PPC-6601 (from UTStarcom) and PPC 6700
Wi-Fi hotspots: 25,000
International roaming: No; Canada and Mexico in mid-2006
Service charges: $79.99 with two-year contract, $59.99 with two-year data and voice contract; monthly data plan, $39.99 for 40MB; monthly phone-as-modem data plan, $39.99 unlimited; discounted Wi-Fi/3G bundles; router-based shared 3G plans; volume discounts
Other enterprise services: Solutions for wireless corporate e-mail and application access, field service management and automation, fleet management, sales force automation, asset tracking and management; mobile employee tracking; shared mobile or fixed wireless connections using a 3G router

Verizon Wireless
3G standard: EvDO
Average performance: Claimed download, 400Kbps to 700Kbps with 2Mbps peak; claimed upload, 60Kbps to 80Kbps
Present 3G coverage: 180 major metro areas
Projected coverage: Nationwide service by end of 2006.
PC Cards: Verizon Wireless PC 5740 (from UTStarcom), $99.99 with one-year contract, $49.99 with two-year contract; Verizon Wireless V620 (from Novatel Wireless), $149.99 with two-year contract, $199.99 with one-year contract; Kyocera KPC650, $149.99 with two-year contract, $199.99 with one-year contract; U630 (from Novatel Wireless) for GlobalAccess service
PC vendors with embedded 3G notebooks: Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo
3G-enabled PDAs, smartphones: Palm Treo 700w, Treo 650; BlackBerry 7250, 7130e; Verizon Wireless XV6700 (from UTStarcom); Samsung SCH-i730
Wi-Fi hotspots: None
International roaming: Yes, requires separate card
Service charges: $79.99 with two-year contract, $59.99 with two-year service and qualifying wireless voice plan, shared megabyte bucket options; international coverage, $129.99 for unlimited data in the United States and 100MB per month abroad; BlackBerry as modem, $15 with any unlimited BlackBerry data feature voice plan or voice and data choice bundle, $30 with unlimited BlackBerry/PDA data plan
Other enterprise services: Wireless Sync, enterprise push e-mail solution; device management and security; wireless application development; Field Force Manager; fleet administration

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