Wireless Devices

Laptop Access

Wireless PDAs

Web Phone Displays

Web Phone Services

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These articles were prepared for the November 29, 2000 edition of

U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Location-Based Services

The ultimate goal of GeePS is to automatically provide

location-based information to your wireless device, allowing you to

find interesting places and events, and even alerting you to special

retail promotions. But this vision requires not only a convenient

and portable mobile wireless device, but the device must also have

some sort of automatic positioning hardware with reasonable accuracy.

While the mobile E-911 mandate will encourage wireless carriers to

provide positional information by the end of 2001, you do not need

to wait to get these services. After all, it’s really not too hard

to enter a five-digit zip code to identify your general location,

and that is quite good enough to access local restaurants or movie


The concept of accessing location-based services in this way is


familiar to Web users. You can plan trips online, with free access

to city guides, rated attractions, entertainment and shopping, hotel

and restaurant reviews, travel and lodging reservations, weather


maps, and even door-to-door directions.

These kinds of services are also coming available for mobile phones

and handheld PDAs. You can access these services on demand from


devices, or, with non-connected handhelds, you can download the


before you go on a trip, and then update it from your hotel room.

A wide range of location-based services are currently available for

Web, mobile, and handheld users, including hotel and restaurant


from Fodor’s and Frommer’s, maps and directions from MapQuest, travel

schedules from Travelocity, and weather from the Weather Channel.

You can also download information from these kinds of

sources to your Palm or Windows CE handheld, or access it through

Web phones, by using information aggregators such as the AvantGo


(www.avantgo.com). A free service, AvantGo offers more than 400


channels formatted for viewing on a handheld screen. You can subscribe

to other brand name information services like the New York Times,

the Wall Street Journal, and Variety. Your channels on your handheld

then are updated with the latest news and information each time you

connect to the Internet or synchronize with your desktop machine.

City Guides. Even today you can carry the equivalent of

a city guide to streets and places along in your Palm PDA, plus


events listings. One such guide is provided by Vindigo Inc. of New

York City (www.vindigo.com), which offers downloadable reference


for 11 major cities. The guides include restaurant, shopping,


and movie listings, including reviews from the New York Times and


To find a movie, you first select the type you are looking for (new,

action, comedy, art/foreign, etc.), scroll though a list of movies

that type, and make your selection. Vindigo provides a synopsis of

the movie, and displays a list of theaters and times for your choice.

The Vindigo guide is also location-based. For example, if you are

looking for a near-by place to eat, you can identify your location

by first selecting the area of the city (i.e., East Village or Theater

District), and then specify the nearest cross-street. You then choose

the type of restaurant that you are looking for (from coffee shops,

delis, and eclectic, to a long list of ethnic and nationalities),

and Vindigo provides a list of restaurants, sorted by distance from

your location. Select a name to see its address, ratings for food,

decor, service, and price, and to read a mini-review. If it sounds

good, Vindigo will even display walking directions to your


including distances and cross-streets.

The Vindigo New York City edition offers some 5,000 listings, but

requires only around 500 kilobytes (thousand characters) of storage,

so it fits well in an 8 megabyte Palm handheld. But the best part

is the price: the Vindigo guides are free downloads, supported by

advertising. Vindigo offers businesses the opportunity to do


targeting of their advertising. For example, once you specify your

location and choose a movie theater, Vindigo displays an ad from a

restaurant where you can go eat after the show.

Directions & Maps. While a city guide like Vindigo is

great for walking around the major cities that it covers, it does

not help with the rest of the country, or for driving in places


a nice regular pattern of cross-streets. For those who plan ahead,

you could buy maps and guide books to help plan your trip. Or you

could use one of the mapping services on the Web like MapQuest to

draw maps at different scales, and even print out driving directions.

You can also use services like AvantGo to access maps and directions.

Microsoft bundles the Pocket Streets application with PocketPC


You can install portions of maps from Microsoft’s Streets and Trips

and MapPoint desktop applications. All the map information is retained

on the handheld, so you can view maps at different levels of detail,

display points of interest, and even search for places or addresses.

Mapping companies such as DeLorme (www.delorme.com) now offer their

services on the Web, as desktop PC products, and for downloading to

handheld devices. The DeLorme product line ranges from consumer


like Street Atlas USA ($40 street price), with detailed U.S. street

maps and route directions, to business products like XMap Business

($99), which provides more detail in rural areas and also includes

over 100 million business and residential listings.

DeLorme has brought maps to handhelds through its Solus software that

can download maps and directions to Palm handhelds from the DeLorme

desktop products or website. Solus Basic is a free application that

can download single maps and directions. Solus Pro ($39) allows


maps and directions, and also interfaces to the DeLorme G.P.S.


You can search maps by place name, address, or points of interest,

and zoom in at different levels of details.

Global Positioning. Finally, the addition of a G.P.S.

receiver to your electronic accessories means you can tell where you

are, where you are going, and how to get there. For example, the


Earthmate G.P.S. receiver ($125) attaches to the Palm and works with

the mapping software to provide real-time driving directions. You

typically mount it on your dashboard (for line of sight to the global

positioning satellites) and run a cable to your Palm. You use the

software to display a map and set up driving directions to your


The software keeps track of where you are relative to the map, and

beeps before an upcoming turn, and displays easy-to-read turn arrows.

The map even can be adjusted to follow your current direction, or

remain in a north-up orientation.

Similar products are being developed by other mapping companies, both

established and start-ups, including Rand McNally


G.P.S. receivers are continuing to shrink in size and cost, and are

available for a variety of platforms, including laptops and the


Handspring Visor (www.handspring.com).

Location-Based Information. So, even with today’s


you can get a lot of help figuring out what is happening around you,

at least as long as you already know where you are. A zip code may

be a coarse locator, but it is good enough to find information about

a suburban area like Princeton. And when in a city, you can use the

grid structure of the streets to get a more precise location.

But no matter what the location, the important information is behind

the interface, with databases of places of interest, timely updates,

and interfaces to retail systems to provide current offers and


This is the challenge addressed by companies like GeePS, assembling,

updating, and distributing this mass of information in a convenient

way suitable to the user’s mobile device.

— Douglas Dixon

Top Of Page
Wireless Devices

Are you ready to go wireless? Do you need access to

the Internet everywhere you go? This will be commonplace in a few

years, with Web browsers built into mobile phones and wireless access

built into handheld personal digital assistants (PDAs). Forrester

Research has predicted that more than 55 million Internet-enabled

cell phones and PDAs will be in use by 2005. But even now, you have

a wide variety of options for getting connected.

If you need to carry your laptop with you wherever you go, then you

can get a wireless connection for your laptop, and check your E-mail

and surf the net wherever you go. If you are a frequent traveler,

and need to travel light with your mobile phone as your lifeline,

then you can get an Internet-enabled phone for E-mail and information

access. However, Internet phones have very small displays, so you

cannot use them to study lengthy Web pages. In addition, you will

want to keep your messages short as you peck away on the telephone


The compromise option between these two is to use a wireless handheld

PDA. PDAs can be almost as light as a mobile phone, but still have

a significantly larger screen and a better mechanism for interacting

with the display and entering text. Yes, you have to carry two


devices, a phone and a PDA, but that also means that you can access

data on the PDA while you are talking on the phone.

No matter what your approach, you can sign up for wireless service

today, and access a wide range of Internet services. "Applications

are happening now as part of everyday life," says Nick


director of wireless data sales and support with Verizon


the new name for the company created earlier this year by the merger

of Bell Atlantic and GTE. (See www.verizon.com for the new company,

and www.bam.com for services in this region under the Bell Atlantic

Mobile name.)

Top Of Page
Laptop Access

If you do need to have full Internet access from your

laptop, then you have several options for how to connect. In either

case, you need to have some sort of wireless dial-up device that acts

like a standard computer modem that you plug into a phone jack. You

then can access the full capabilities of the Internet from your


albeit at a slower rate than dial-up service.

If you already have a digital phone, you can use your phone to do

the dialing, and connect it by a cable to your laptop. "This gives

you quick ‘Net service, connected to your own ISP [Internet Service

Provider]," says Zemlachenko. "You work with your existing

mobile price plan, and share the minutes." You can add this


to your existing digital plan for around $10 a month.

The second approach is to use a separate wireless modem, which looks

like other flat PC card devices that slide into a slot in your laptop,

but with the addition of a small antenna attached to one end.


the same Internet experience," says Zemlachenko, "but Verizon

is your ISP and provides a separate E-mail account." And it does

not tie up your phone line. This dedicated service, like the service

offerings for PDAs are typically packaged as unlimited usage for a

fixed fee. Verizon offers this service as Web Access Internet Plus

for $40 a month.

"We have been heavily into wireless data for the past five


says Zemlachenko. "The Princeton police patrol with laptops using

Verizon to access national and state crime databases. PSE&G uses a

thousand mobile data computers for dispatch of work orders so they

can process more jobs per day."

Top Of Page
Wireless PDAs

Handheld PDAs provide a promising compromise between

the full Internet access possible with a laptop and the limited access

of a phone. For example, the Palm has a graphical display at around

160 x 160 resolution, and a typical text display with 10 lines of

25 or more characters. This means it’s not unreasonable to scroll

though a list of E-mail messages, click on the ones you want to read,

and then compose a response by using the Graffiti handwriting


or the on-screen keyboard.

Palm currently offers one model, the Palm VII, with a built-in


modem. Palm offers unlimited access through the BellSouth network

for $44.99 per month. Owners of the Palm V model can get connected

with the OmniSky/Minstrel wireless modem that slides onto the back

of the unit. The modem has been discounted to $149. The service costs

$39.95 a month for unlimited access through AT&T. Verizon offers Web

Access Internet Plus for Palm organizers for $25 a month.

Using a PDA is still a pain, but it’s a lot better than lugging around

a laptop, or squinting at the miniature screen of a mobile phone.

Even without a wireless PDA, I have lightened my load by leaving the

laptop at home and using the Palm modem to connect my Palm to the

hotel phone line so I can check E-mail and surf the Web.

"If you do E-mail as a regular task, the phone interface is not

the best choice," says Zemlachenko. "Application developers

are trying to perfect a common platform, for phone, handheld, and

laptop, and be able to present a screen consistent with the


After all, you really do not want to try to display a complete Web

page on a handheld display. It would be clumsy to try to scroll around

a large page on the smaller handheld display, many pages have fancy

animated features using technologies like Java and Shockwave that

are beyond the capabilities of the handheld software, and you really

do not even want to wait to download large images and backgrounds.

Instead, Palm offers a service called "Web clipping," and

other wireless portals offer "proxy" services that simplify

the display of Web pages by removing extraneous features, simplify

the layout, and even shrink the images to fit the display. Starting

Friday, December 1, you can use your PDA to access Banana Republic

ads at 100 phone kiosks in Manhattan.

Top Of Page
Web Phone Displays

At the other extreme of wireless Internet connectivity

is the new development of Web-enabled mobile phones. The good news

with a Web phone is that you really can access Internet resources,

to get instant up-to-date information, and even to receive and send

E-mail messages. The trade-off is that a small phone display and


is a fairly limited interface for exchanging information.

But if you need that kind of connectivity, a mobile Web phone can

be a lifesaver. "It gives you Internet access out on the


says Zemlachenko. "You can access applications from the phone,

find food and restaurants, or get the best price on product. You can

check stock quotes, respond and take advantage of the market.


can find out about a company, and get access to information just


a meeting." Like the laptop dial-up services, you can add Internet

and E-mail service to your existing digital plan for around $10 a


For an example of how this service works, I’ll describe the interface

on a Qualcomm QCP-860 digital phone that Verizon loaned me. This is

an Internet-capable digital phone, with a display that can show four

rows of 12 characters each, or just enough to display one phone number

per line (i.e., "609-456-7890").

To squeeze an interactive interface onto these small displays, a new

Web interface style has been developed for mobile phones based on

simple text menus. WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) was developed

by an industrial consortium and has become the de-facto global


for wireless information and telephony services accessed on hand-held

devices such as wireless phones, PDAs, and pagers (www.wapforum.org).

Websites that want to provide mobile access must then be WAP-enabled

to reformat their content for small screens, and mobile phones have

built-in mini-browsers that interact with the WAP content.

When you connect to Verizon’s service, the phone displays the main

menu, starting with the first four lines:

1. MyVZW

2. Websites

3. Hot Spots


Select a menu item by pressing the corresponding number key,

or by using the scroll up and down keys to move to that line, and

then press the key under OK. The down arrow next to OK (indicated

by "V"), means that there are more items in the menu if you

continue to scroll down (up to nine).

To get current information, like weather, you keep moving through

the menus: Press 2 for Websites, and then 7 for Weather. Each press

sends a message back to the WAP server, and then you wait a couple

of seconds for the response to come back and be displayed.

Beyond information access on a Web phone is two-way messaging and

E-mail. This requires patience, persistence, and brevity, as you peck

out text messages on the telephone keypad. For example, to type the

letter "n," you need to press the 6 key (with letters


twice, to cycle through the sequence from "m" to "n."

New interfaces are being developed to try to improve text entry, so

you can just type each key once, and the phone will guess the


letter or word that you are trying to enter. "We are getting


says Zemlachenko. "It’s not out of the question to see the


advance out to the phone."

Top Of Page
Web Phone Services

As you consider signing up for wireless Internet access,

you need to ask the same kind of questions that you ask for any mobile

phone, particularly the type usage that you expect to make of the

service and the geographical region that you tend to travel within.

The phone-based services tend to be sold as add-ons to your existing

digital phone service, and therefore can share the monthly budget

of minutes in your plan.

The PDA and laptop modem services tend to be sold as flat rate plans

with unlimited service. These services actually use a different


technology, CDPD (Cellular Digital Packet Data), which requires


equipment at the cellular sites. As a result, the coverage area for

CDPD service can differ from a carrier’s regular digital service.

Some services allow you to dial in to your existing ISP and access

your E-mail directly, even behind a company firewall. Other services

require that they serve as your ISP, which means that you either have

to change your E-mail address, or arrange to forward all your existing

accounts to the new address.

Finally, be ready to upgrade your equipment in another year or two.

In particular, current "second generation" data rates for

wireless are rather slow, around 14.4 to 19.2 Kbps, compared to 56K

modems. "The next threshold is 144 Kbps, anticipated in early

2001," says Zemlachenko. "There is a lot going on in the


— Douglas Dixon

Caveat: Prices change. These are approximate.

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