Corrections or additions?
These articles were prepared for the November 29, 2000 edition of
U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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
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."
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.
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:
3. Hot Spots
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."
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.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.