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Wireless Networks

Matching Application Profiles to Wireless Network's Capabilities

We have a choice of the following network technologies for our mobile computing needs:

  • SMR Private Networks
  • ESMR - Enhanced SMR for radio voice and data
  • Packet Radio (e.g., Motient, Bell South Wireless Data)
  • Paging networks e.g. Skytel for two-way paging
  • Cellular (circuit switched)
  • CDPD
  • PCS - Second generation TDMA, CDMA networks now and  2.5 G & 3G in future
  • GSM (SMS -Short Messaging Services)
  • Satellite-based wireless networks

Wireless networks have different characteristics, so it is important to select a network that matches application requirements. The following table compares the capabilities of different networks from an application perspective:


Network Technology Description Best Applications Geographical Coverage Speed and Performance Pros Cons
SMR Specialized radio network for dispatch Dispatch: voice and data Local or regional 4800 BPS Voice and data Slow speed, regional coverage
ESMR Digital radio to base stations, then public wired network Voice/data: paging and short messages for dispatch Regional 4800 BPS Integrated voice and data; digital network Limited application support
Circuit Switched Cellular Data sent over circuit-switched cellular network via special modems File Transfer, long textual messages Nationwide 4800-14400 Good coverage; economical for file transfer Expensive for short messages
Packet Radio

(Motient or RAM)

Radio network designed for packet data Short bursty (Point of sale, database queries, fleet dispatch, telemetry) Nationwide 4800-19200 (Motient)

8000 (RAM)

National coverage, strong third- party support Expensive for long files
Narrowband PCS New two-way PCS based network Short messages with brief interaction Regional to national 25.6 kbps on SkyTel Two-way messaging, cost attractive Emerging; limited messaging protocol
Broadband PCS Initial focus on voice; data will come later Not clear; potential for both short messages and file transfer Currently available only as pilot projects No reliable information available; potential high Potentially could replace packet radio, cellular, CDPD Pilot testing only; heavy investment required
CDPD Packet-based digital data over cellular infrastructure Short bursty (similar to Motient and RAM) metropolitan areas now; national eventually 19200 BPS More ubiquitous coverage to come; faster than RAM. coverage spotty;  voice gets higher priority
Satellite- Based Network Data sent over low earth-orbit satellites High speed file transfer National and international 9600 BPS Greatest coverage, except in downtown core Limited availability

Source: "Mobile Computing - A Systems Integrator's Handbook", published by McGraw-Hill

Although individual wireless networks are initially designed for specific needs, over time, they tend to broaden their applicability, resulting in overlap from one network to another. Thus, these days there is generally more than one network appropriate for any given application, a fact that is highlighted in the following table which lists application characteristics and corresponding network options:

Matching Applications with Network Types

Application Type Network Choices Key Decision Factors
E-mail Motient or Ram Mobile Data Economical for shorter, fewer messages per user, per business session
  Narrowband PCS Very economical
File Transfer and Fax Cellular Circuit Switched National coverage and cost are the most important considerations
  ESMR ESMR networks are being designed for file transfer and fax services
Telemetry Motient, RAM, CDPD Short transactions in minimal quantities at predictable intervals
Point of Sale/ Transaction processing Packet Radio - Motient, RAM National coverage; more expensive than CDPD
  Circuit Switched Cellular National coverage; expensive response time; takes 30 seconds to set up call
Fleet Dispatch ESMR Voice and data integration on the same device; one way messaging now, two-way to come; short messages
  Private Packet Radio Coverage; two-way messaging
  CDPD Limited coverage; speed; constant connection; no set up time; cost
Couriers/Transportation Switched Circuit Cellular Nation-wide coverage, expensive but large customers can get discounts
  Private packet radio Nationwide coverage, cost, short transaction
  CDPD Limited coverage; less expensive than circuit-switched cellular and private radio; speedy response time at 19200 bps
Public Safety (police, fire, ambulance) Spread Spectrum Limited area in municipalities; very low cost
  CDPD Per user per month price model is attractive; coverage may be acceptable
  Private Radio Packet Cost for many applications and agencies is attractive; consistent response time
Database Access Spread Spectrum Cheap in a campus environment
  Private Packet Radio Acceptable only for mobile-ware DBMS applications
  CDPD Coverage; response time at 19200 could be less

Source : Source: "Mobile Computing - A Systems Integrator's Handbook", published by McGraw-Hill

Note: The table is for illustrative purposes only. It does not imply that only the specified network types can be used for a given application.


Network Choice Dependent on Communications Software & Application Support
We would like to caution readers that the choice of a network should be based as much on its inherent transportability as on several other factors, including the availability of compatible communications software and application development tools. The final choice in selecting a network will inevitably be based on more comprehensive criteria than the above suggestions. The second table merely attempts to highlight the more obvious choices on the assumption that other fundamental needs such as software compatibility, security, and network management have already been considered

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