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Preface

Preface

Most of us form some kind of picture in our mind when we talk to someone on the phone. We usually imagine them sitting at a desk or lounging on a sofa, but those pictures are no longer true. Dial a number in some European countries, and the chances are that it will reach a wireless phone. The person you talk to could be sailing in Lake Geneva, trekking across Lapland, or just walking down any city street.

Soon we won't have to imagine. The phone companies are already demonstrating wireless videophones that double as pen-based computers, and that's just the start. The very term "cellphone" may soon itself becoming outdated, as the next generation of mobile data terminals will be able to do far more than transmit voice. Visionaries predict mobile links as good as those that office computers users enjoy, enabling high-speed Internet access, CD-quality sound, and crystal-clear video.

Even more exciting are the new applications unique to mobile devices: location-based maps, personalized weather forecasts, even real-time medical monitoring. Electronic currency could allow a cellphone to become a virtual wallet, transmitting the equivalent of cash to stores both in the real world and online. Marketers refer to all these applications as the "Wireless Web," a somewhat empty phrase. It is both as meaningless and as promising as the "Information Superhighway" of nearly a decade ago.

The Essential Guide to Wireless Communications Applications is designed to look beyond the hype, examining just what is and isn't possible with present-day and future wireless systems. It is primarily focused on the applications, but to understand these properly requires a look at the underlying technology. For example, the first version of WAP promoted a backlash among European users because it had been promoted as equivalent to the wired Internet. If the marketers had understood the technology and been more honest, it might have seemed less of a disappointment.

This book is intended for anyone who wants (or needs) to learn about the new wave of wireless networks. It will introduce you to all the most important wireless technologies, then explore their likely impact on both commerce and culture.

Structure

Each chapter is intended to stand alone, though the whole book should also make sense when read from beginning to end. Readers who already know a bit about the technology, or who are entirely technophobic, may wish to skip parts of Chapters 2 to 5. These explain in detail how the first, second and third generation cellular systems work, exploring the type of applications that each is best suited to as well as the financial and regulatory problems in their way.

Chapters 6 and 7 focus solely on the applications, looking at the types of services available from each system today and tomorrow. They also take a look at the hard economics behind investment in mobile systems, and the reason that Europe's telecom carriers are gambling up to a trillion dollars on 3G.

Chapter 8 deals with some of the hardware needed for wireless services, from the cellular operators' infrastructure of radio masts to the servers hosting individual WAP sites. Mobile phones themselves are investigated inChapter 10, which considers the different paths that their evolution may take. Some are predicting that they expand to become computers, others that they shrink to the size of headsets.

Bluetooth is one of the hottest new wireless technologies, designed for short-range links between almost all electronic appliances.Chapter 9 takes a detailed look at this, and compares it to rival systems that might be used for the same purposes. The final two chapters are dedicated to fixed wireless systems, such as satellites. Despite some high-profile failures, many new satellite constellations are still on the launchpad. They claim to offer truly global networks, promising Internet access from ocean liners, intercontinental jets, and even the South Pole.

At the end of every chapter is a summary page, highlighting the important information contained within. Each chapter also contains a short a list of relevant Web sites, for readers hoping to learn more. None of these have any connection with this book, but all contain some useful information.

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