Communicating on the fly.
Remember Dick Tracy's two-way wrist radio? Who would have thought that the crime-fighting comic-strip hero would presage strides in wireless telecommunications?
Tracy's wristwatch-size telephone isn't here yet, but certainly researchers are getting close to the technology. Cellular-telephone equipment manufacturers are downsizing telephones, making them smaller and lighter than ever before. Telephones that fit in a pocket or purse or on a belt are on their way to being commonplace. Some manufacturers even foresee telephones the size of a credit card.
The most exciting wireless communications technology is not in the manufacturing of the telephone itself, but in the development of new telecommunications transmission technology, which may transform the way we do business. Schaumburg, Ill-based Motorola Inc. is developing what it calls Iridium, a radically advanced proposal for satellite telecommunications. Iridium subscribers will carry personal telephones with personal phone numbers that no longer will be associated only with their addresses or vehicles. Iridium will enable you to communicate to and from anywhere in the world at any time.
Much like the silver-white metallic element Iridium, which has 77 electrons that orbit its nucleus, Iridium will use 77 satellites that will orbit at a high velocity and relatively close to earth. Telephones will communicate directly with the satellites, which will act as switches for receiving, placing and routing calls. The system will be connected to land-line switches so that wired infrastructures can talk to Iridium.
Local service providers will lease or sell Iridium telephones for an introductory fee of approximately $2,000. It is estimated that service will cost a mere $50 per month. Rates will start at about $3 per minute and will be distance-insensitive. This is compared with 30 cents to 40 cents per minute for the typical cellular minute. You're probably asking yourself: "With a cost difference like that, why would anyone choose Iridium over cellular?" Many business people probably wouldn't.
"The service is meant for the worldwide traveler," says Bary Bertiger, assistant general manager for Motorola Satellite Communications in Arizona. "Iridium is not meant to replace cellular service, but to augment it to provide global telephone coverage." Subscribers of cellular telephone service cannot travel to Japan or Europe or even some parts of the United States and use their cellular telephones, because they are out of the limits of local cellular networks. Iridium, because it uses satellite transmission, would eliminate that problem. Bertiger believes that Iridium subscribers also will subscribe to cellular service.
Iridium will be able to access electronic mail, receive and store faxes and access computers. The telephone will have a small liquid-crystal display and a printer port. So, if you were in London, you could leave your telephone on the window sill overnight, then in the morning flip on the LCD screen or plug the phone into a printer to retrieve faxes stored overnight.
In addition to the increased productivity and extended freedoms Iridium will give worldwide business travelers, the system will make it possible for countries such as India to provide long-promised telephone service to its more than 500,000 villages that are without telecommunications service at present. With Iridium, infrastructures can be dropped into rural areas without the wiring and structural work needed to implement other telecommunications services.
Motorola Satellite Communications intends to sell its services to telephone companies worldwide, so that eventually it will own only 15 percent of the service. Motorola Satellite is developing and supplying the Iridium systems. Iridium Inc. is the owner and operator of the system.
The Iridium project, with an estimated $3.1 billion cost, is projected to launch in 1994 and be completed by 1997. Market estimates seem to validate the economics of Iridium. By the year 2000, after a few years of service, the company expects to have 1.8 million subscribers; and by the year 2006, it expects twice that number.
Another satellite-based communications system that should generate interest among business people is called automatic vehicle location, or AVL, which also was pioneered by Motorola. Sheriff's departments in Johnson and Tippecanoe counties currently are using AVL to help fight crime. With AVL, communications personnel at headquarters can look at a large map on a wall, where all cars are identified by a number; they can determine, within a few feet, the location of each car. The icons even look like little cars, and move around on the map so that a dispatcher can send reinforcements, if necessary, with pinpoint accuracy.
In addition to AVL, the departments are using on-board computers linked to the base with a random radio signal that's impossible for criminals to crack. The results have been dramatic: Since the system was implemented in Johnson County, the crime-solving rate has risen to more than 70 percent.
During the Persian Gulf War the U.S. Army deployed a similar system using high-tech surveying gear. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Trimble Navigation Ltd. manufacturers the gear, components of which include small hand-held, satellite-guided receivers to determine precise geographical locations. That same technology now is being utilized by civil engineers to determine the exact height of mountains and by surveying crews on construction projects. Long-distance freight haulers also are using AVL to monitor the movement of their fleets.
Both soldiers and surveyors are using the Navstar Global Positioning System, which consists of a cluster of 16 satellites that orbit the earth twice a day at an altitude of 11,000 miles. The system works by simple geometric formulas and uses a radio beam. It takes signals collected by three or four satellites. From these signals, a surveyor can calculate three dimensions: latitude, longitude and altitude.
Trimble's next frontier is vehicle tracking in the freight and courier industries, as well as in city transportation. By 1993, there will be 24 Navstar satellites in orbit. That's enough to support three-dimensional tracking 24 hours a day.
Meanwhile, the cellular telecommunications market is becoming increasingly pervasive. The continuing strides the industry is making toward more refined cellular technology also are impressive. According to a survey by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, the industry grew 21 percent during the first half of 1991, adding 1.1 million subscribers for a total of 6.4 million.
"Overall, the national economy is soft. Yet, 1991 has been a year of tremendous growth, both in terms of numbers of customers and markets we serve," says Jeff Cater, sales manager for United States Cellular in Evansville.
Increased usage has spurred the most imminent advancement in the cellular telecommunications industry--the nearing of the goal of a seamless network, especially east of the Mississippi River. "It used to be that subscribers couldn't drive from South Bend to Indianapolis without losing cellular transmission," says Fred Freihofer, general manager for Centel Cellular in South Bend. "By this time next year, we'll be able to travel from Chicago to Louisville."
Some cellular service providers, such as GTE Mobilnet, are replacing their entire cellular switching systems, changing them from analog to digital to increase system capacity. Digital will enable them to put many different channels over the same frequency, and at the same time will ensure higher-quality transmission and more-refined service.
Ameritech Mobile Communications Inc. also is challenging the current cellular transmission frequencies. It is developing a completely new service called personal communications service, which it hopes to launch early in 1992. The digital communications technology and lower-powered transmitters that PCS requires will make portable phones different from those available today. Phones will be smaller, lighter and less-expensive, and they'll be used differently.
An Indiana Bell sister company, Ameritech Mobile, will run a trial using Motorola equipment to demonstrate the extent to which PCS can share the spectrum with current users to provide cellular service on a small scale. The Ameritech test will connect PCS transmitters with the existing telecommunications network, rather than build an entirely separate network, to provide service in areas of up to 200 yards in diameter. It is anticipated that PCS technology will be applied within large manufacturing facilities or at multiple-building corporate sites. Its primary users will be individuals who need constant two-way communication, but who cannot afford to be handcuffed to a desk. There actually would be a cellular system, a network of cell sites, within the plant or complex.
"Our interest is not only to find out how we might be able to offer the service someday, but to determine how we can use and enhance functionality of our existing network so others can provide the service, too," says David Connolly, Ameritech director of wireless services in Chicago.
Other cellular industry accomplishments are less technical and more "bells and whistles" oriented. Cellular telephones, for example, now can access call waiting, three-way calling, call forwarding and voice-mail features just as regular telephone service does. A full-featured portable telephone that AT&T recently developed even can record the numbers of people who have called. It has a 200-number memory with an alphabetical search, an LCD screen that gives instructions for using its features, and color-coded feature buttons. If you want to "send" a call, for example, push green, and if you want to "end" a call, push red. It has even gone so far as to have the number-five key raised, so the user can locate the center of the keypad without looking.
Still other advancements aim toward improving customer service and reducing billings. Centel, for instance, is testing a program called "calling party pays." Now, a cellular subscriber pays for incoming and outgoing calls, but in the future he or she may pay only for outgoing calls.
Seamless cellular networks, credit-card-sized telephones and satellite-powered service? Maybe the sky isn't the limit.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||personal mobile telephones|
|Publication:||Indiana Business Magazine|
|Article Type:||Industry Overview|
|Date:||Dec 1, 1991|
|Previous Article:||Indiana's all star stocks.|
|Next Article:||Homegrown software.|