Wireless Access : Cell Phones, Part 1


I read Karl's Access Angles article series, and noticed a glaring omission - while discussing the wireless options, he focused on the high-powered 'fixed' services, but did not mention something that millions of people have an Interest in: surfing the Web from their cell-phones.

Whether connecting their laptops to their cell phones for an easy mobile-connectivity option, or using their 'next generation' phones to directly access the Internet, a growing legion of today's 'on the go' types rely upon their cell phones to support their heavy day to day Internet operations. But just how do they do it?

We've all seen the TV commercials with the people using their cell phones to check e-mail, order tickets, and other Internet-related products. I bet you wondered how they did that, and if you could do that too. In many cases the answer is yes, but as always there is a cost involved.

What Is Wireless Internet
The Internet broke through into the wireless market in 1997 on a wholesale level. It was originally meant to be able to check e-mail and offer several Internet access features to cell phone users. Currently it offers basic search functions, e-mail access, and purchasing abilities through phones and wireless data organizers, but the list of features and options is growing.

Unfortunately, the great promises of walking by a soda machine, waving your phone and paying for a soda, are still well off. For all the hype that the cell phone companies make about wireless Internet, it is still in its infancy. Users still have a psychological gap to cross in seeing the Internet as a usable function of their cell phone, and the costs involved in wireless data organizers with Internet access still remain cost-prohibitive for many of us.

In the future this will not be the case. Most likely we will see the explosion in growth we originally saw with the Internet in the mid-1990's. As people's views about the Internet changed from skepticism to curiosity, the Internet became a reality very quickly. The same will occur with wireless Internet, as people become less cautious and more curious - but only if the price drops and the service quality and option variety increases. As with regular Internet, wireless Internet works off a series of protocols and mark-up languages.

How Does Wireless Internet Work
As with regular Internet, wireless Internet works off a series of protocols and mark-up languages. In fact, most of these protocols are designed off of the protocols we use to dial up our current Internet access; with pieces ripped out to make them smaller and more friendly to a wireless environment. Below are the common wireless protocols and languages, and their equivalent in the wired world:

WAP - Wireless Application Protocol - Equivalent to PPP and HTTP, WAP allows cell phones and other handheld devices to connect, send, and receive data from the Internet. Originally designed in different formats, most wireless companies have agreed to the WAP standard for wireless Internet access.

HDML - Handheld Device Mark-up Language - Equivalent to HTML, it is a stripped-down version to allow faster transfers of data across wireless signals. Handheld devices do not see the web pages that regular computer users do, and web sites wishing to offer wireless services must provide separate HDML pages in order for wireless customers to browse their sites.

WML - Wireless Mark-up Language - The same as HDML, but more compact and is becoming the standard over HDML. The original cell phones all used HDML, but most newer phones have the ability to read both.

WML Script - Where JavaScript revolutionized and matured the Internet, WML Script is attempting to do the same with handheld devices. JavaScript brought the ability to add interactivity to web sites. WML script is attempting to bring that maturity to wireless applications. With WML Script, advances mathematical calculations are possible, allowing for more interactive web sites with more e-commerce potential.

WBMP - Wireless BitMap - This is the default wireless picture format. Wireless Bitmaps are small, monochrome pictures that are uncompressed. This means that they are either extremely small and do not end up using huge amounts of bandwidth.

Now that you understand a little about the technology, it's time to investigate the costs and benefits of Internet access using your cell phone. Stay tuned for Part 2!