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Market gears up to satisfy rising wireless demands.

Dick Tracy take note. Personal communications systems are not just for conversations anymore. For users of notebook computers, they also provide a link to the corporate data network, pulling the organization's data bases and other computing resources at the user's fingertips wherever they go.

NCR calls this powerful capability "mobile networked computing." To capitalize on what it sees as an explosive market, it has combined its portable computer technology with parent AT&T's global communications strengths to come up with an innovative travel companion, the NCR 3170.

Powered by a 25-MHz Intel 386SL microprocessor, the 4.9-pound notebook computer comes with a cellularready, V.32 or V.42 internal fax modem. It is also equipped for a wide range of broadcast fax, E-mail and electronic data interchange services through AT&T EasyLink. Optional attachments allow the NCR 3170 to receive short electronic messages sent to wireless digital beepers.

The interest in mobile, or wireless computing is being spurred by the demand for notebook computers, which have enjoyed a 20 to 25 percent growth in each of the past two years. This compares with an annual growth of only 8 percent for desktop computers.

Analysts project the market for notebook computers will total $13 billion by 1995. Apple Computer alone expects to sell $1 billion worth of its Macintosh Power Book computers in its first year.

Last March, IBM made its debut with two PS Notes computers, weighing in at 6.2 pounds and using the Intel 386 SX and SLC chips. In doing so, it joined an already crowded field, including Hewlett Packard, Compaq, Dell and Zenith, and such Japanese giants as NEC, Sharp and Toshiba.

IBM has also formed a couple of alliances to grab its share of the wireless data market. It has teamed with Motorola on the Ardis packet-data radio network, and is working with a number of major cellular carriers on a project called CelluPlan II. The objective with CelluPlan II is to develop an open platform for transmitting data over existing voice channels.

IBM says it is backing two projects because they target different markets. CelluPlan II is aimed at the cellular phone market, while Ardis is intended for E-mail services.

Meanwhile, Digital Equipment has thrown its support behind a rival to Ardis, the Mobitex packet-data radio network of RAM Mobile Data Inc. Working with RAM and its financial backer, BellSouth, Digital has equipped its All-In-1 E-mail software for wireless capabilities using the Mobitex network.

The Regional Bell Operating companies see a bright future for wireless networking and are investing heavily in it. Lee Franklin, president of Pacific Telesis' wireless data division, says he expects wireless data revenue to comprise at least 30 percent of the company's cellular business by the year 2000.

For this to happen, cellular networks will have to be beefed up to accommodate packet switching and to handle the large amounts of data involved. Lack of standards is another obstacle. Each cellular company has a different approach for transmitting data over its network.

To overcome this problem, United Parcel Service Inc. has developed its own communications protocols for a nationwide, data-over-cellular system it will deploy early next year to track deliveries for air and ground parcels throughout the day. The cellular networks will tie the UPS trucks into the UPSnet, a 40-node, private X.25 data network that UPS completed last year.

To develop the needed standards, GTE has joined with three of the Baby Bells--Ameritech, Bell Atlantic and Nynex--to examine and test various cellular data options. In addition to defining common industry standards, they play to establish a nationwide data service.

AT&T is also throwing its considerable weight behind wireless computing with a number of investments and alliances. AT&T is developing a microprocessor chip for low-powered handheld computers, code-named Hobbit, and has signed an agreement for Go Corp. of Foster City, Calif., to develop an operating system for it using a pen-like pointing device instead of a keyboard.

In addition, it has invested in General Magic, a Mountain View, Calif., developer of software for mobile computing, and in EO Computer Co., a Foster City computer firm that is developing a handheld machine. AT&T has also held discussions with McCaw Cellular Communications Inc. about the possibility of investment or purchase. Meanwhile, a number of cable TV firms are looking to use their networks as the backbone of a wireless communications system.

Perhaps the biggest boost for wireless computing, though, will come from the Federal Communications Commission's plan to award regional and nationwide licenses for personal communications services, starting in late 1993 or early 1994. Dick Tracy, stand by.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Netcomm Update; personal communications systems
Author:Edwards, Morris
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:Column
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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