SCIENCE TRIBUNE Thursday, November 28, 2002, Chandigarh, India
  The new wireless world
The new wireless world
H. S. Jatana
he long predicted "anywhere-everywhere" wireless world is taking shape. Wireless communications beyond simple voice connectivity are becoming practical, affordable and real. Wireless applications are appearing in areas as diverse as cars, vending machines and agriculture. The year 2002 could see key developments in the emergence of this era.


  • A pop-up tent, finally
  • Sharpest view yet of sun
  • Do bugs travel Between Planets?




The new wireless world
H. S. Jatana

The long predicted "anywhere-everywhere" wireless world is taking shape. Wireless communications beyond simple voice connectivity are becoming practical, affordable and real. Wireless applications are appearing in areas as diverse as cars, vending machines and agriculture. The year 2002 could see key developments in the emergence of this era.

Globalisation, interdependence and furious innovations may make this new wireless world technology possible. Whether, however, it will be a commercially fruitful world in a separate question. The fate of unloved, unwanted WAP stands as testimony to those who proclaim, "build it and they will come". They did, and the customers didn’t.

Commercial sense, please

The key to the new world of wireless is, therefore, not technology. It is what makes commercial sense. And no one approach suits all. There are discernible and quite distinct forces at work in different market segments. Mobile telephony, the continuing mainstay of wireless communications, is being profoundly transformed as players search for sustained profitability. Automotive wireless applications are about to go mainstream, but large commercial questions remain unanswered. In a third area, telemetry or machine-to-machine wireless communications, businesses in a dozen industries are searching out commercially viable approaches.

The biggest change is in mobile phones where, over the past year, handset equipment makers have been squeezed. Sales have slowed. In wealthier markets, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, and Western and Northern Europe, most people who want mobile phones have them. Intense competition demands ever-shorter product cycles to serve the fragmented market segments, each wanting different combinations of features. All the while, there is the drumbeat pressure on when and how to move to new technological standards. Taking nine to twelve months to develop new models that might miss their market therefore represents too great a commercial risk for even the largest and most established players.

Handset makers are already starting to respond by outsourcing their manufacturing and using finished components. This results in new products coming to market more quickly and cost effectively. The next step will be to outsource design for the man-machine interface and other software. The concept of outsourcing the design of the core wireless function will not be far behind. Handsets will increasingly use open platforms. Ericsson and Motorola have begun outsourcing and, at the end of 2001, announced plans to follow the open platform route. Nokia is the only major producer to buck the trend and retain control of the entire design and manufacturing process.

Handset makers are set to follow the PC market and become a combination of marketers and integrators. Their core functions will be the design branding and user interfaces of a product, with hardware and software outsourced. Look for signs of this in announcements about cooperative software, technology alliances, and similar milestones at major exhibitions this year.

A role for automotives

In contrast to the slowing handset market, 2002 could be the year when automotive wireless breaks out. At present there are an estimated 2.8 million private vehicles equipped for wireless. But this year Fiat of Europe will become the first major manufacturer to fit a complete range of new cars with wireless capability. In three years’ time , industry analysts are talking about sales of wireless-equipped cars topping nearly 16 million, with two-thirds as many — 11 million being fitted in commercial and public service vehicles.

For drivers, wireless offers the promise of satellite navigation, emergency and breakdown communications and security, as well as built-in voice and data telephony. For transportation companies, wireless opens the way to better route planning. For example, drivers can be sent revised schedules through short messaging services. That translates into improved vehicle utilisation and reduced costs. Unlike handset makers, vehicle manufacturers take years to develop a new model. Installing wireless equipment in vehicle dashboards represents a chance to provide features that competitors don’t. However, automakers are agnostic as to whether their vehicles are configured for GSM/GPRS, CDMA or any other standard.

The key for them is that any wireless equipment is easy to fit, robust and economic — not really affecting the final sticker price — and actually works in whichever geographic market the vehicles are intended for.

Wireless telemetry

The third area likely to see significant developments this year is wireless telemetry. This is primarily a business-to-business market, unlike mobile telephony and automotive wireless that are strongly consumer oriented. Wireless telemetry is less about generating revenue streams. It is more about allowing organisations and businesses to improve internal work practices and efficiencies, and optimising costs. Users that see the value are already gaining a competitive edge. In Scandinavia, for example, deregulated power utilities are installing electricity meters with wireless links. Their end-users’ electricity usage can be tracked in real time.

Demand for wireless telemetry will be increasingly driven by what makes commercial, competitive sense, irrespective of the industry. A device that automatically waters a field of crops, or activates security scanners in a warehouse, or switches on or off a machine, allows organisations and companies to operate over greater geographic areas with fewer people. Devices that measure, record and report on how equipment miles away is performing deliver valuable market data as well as data on the workings of remote machines. In a parallel development to what is happening in automotive wireless, freight and transportation businesses are exploring monitoring cargo movements and vehicles usage through remote interrogation of fitted wireless equipment on containers and trucks.

One set of expected beneficiaries of telemetry has been a surprisingly slow adopter to date. Fitting a remote, standalone vending machine with a wireless module or modem seems a natural combination. A machine-to-machine wireless link allows a food company or a drinks distributor to know automatically when a particular machine needs restocking, and with which products. The machine can even let it be known when it has been vandalised or needs routine maintenance. Yet to date, barely two per cent of the estimated 28 million vending machines around the world are fitted with wireless devices. Conservative management seem slow to change, even though a wireless link can pay for itself within its first year and then generates net savings of hundreds of US dollars a year per machine. This will no doubt change when someone creates a thriving vending business using wireless links.

Companies developing and supplying wireless solutions for this new wireless world need to offer easy-to-use, cost-efficient options. As with PCs and game consoles, encouraging third-party applications will open up new, undreamt avenues. The move to open platforms in the wireless world is a sign that things are starting to move. By the end of 2002, the landscape of this new world will be discernible to all.

The author is Member (VLSI) with Semiconductor Complex, Ministry of Information Technology.



A pop-up tent, finally

Inflatable tents have been in development for 70 years, but finally someone has got it right.

The 10-pound AirZone pitches in just 7 seconds, as a carbon dioxide cartridge inflates it support poles. The poles are basic rubber inner tubes surrounded by woven polyester.

Turning the release valve deflates the poles in 2 seconds. Price: $ 200 to $ 300.


Sharpest view yet of sun

Ushering in a new era in solar telescopes, the premiere of a powerful sun-watching instrument has provided astrophysicists with the sharpest, most detailed view yet of the 4.5 billion-year-old superheated ball of gas at the centre of our solar system.

Equipped with the latest adaptive optics technology expected to revolutionize star-gazing tools, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ one-metre (3.25-foot) solar telescope atop an extinct volcano in Spain’s Canary Islands has captured the world’s most revealing images of the sun.

Among the newly uncovered solar features are mysterious dark structures within sunspots. These solar magnetic storms — which appear as odd-shaped inky blobs splattered across the sun’s surface — can wreak havoc with radio communications, power distribution, signal systems for trains and satellites and other vital earthly activities.

The Swedish instrument, installed March 2, 2002, and fully operational on May 21, has a resolution unmatched by any other solar telescope — 1,200 times crisper than the focus of human eyes with normal 20/20 vision.

The telescope enables scientists to examine features as small as 100 km on the sun’s surface — an extraordinary feat considering the target has a diameter of some 1.39 million km and is an average 150 million km away, scientists sat. UPI


Do bugs travel between planets?

It came from outer space. Life, that is.

This concept has drifted around the universe of space science since at least as long ago as 1864, when William Thomson Kelvin told the Royal Society of Edinburgh: "The hypothesis that life originated on this earth through moss-grown fragments from the ruins of another world may seem wild and visionary; all I maintain is that it is not unscientific."

"Spores," says Gerda Horneck, of DLR German Aerospace Center in Köln, "can withstand a variety of different hostile conditions: heat, radiation, dessication, chemical substances, such as alcohol, acetone and others. They have an extremely long shelf life. This is because the sensitive material, the DNA, is especially packed and protected in the spores."

Tough as bacterial spores are, however, they cannot survive direct exposure to solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation, Horneck writes in Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere, 2001. But while Arhennius’s panspermia is out, Kelvin’s fanciful "moss-grown fragments" may be back in, after a fashion.

Horneck, Mancinelli and their colleagues have several experiments planned. Astrobiology





1. Lines drawn on a map connecting places of equal temperature.

8. U-shaped pipe with unequal lengths to convey liquid from lower to higher level.

9. SI unit of Resistance.

11. A glyceride occurring in many natural fats and oils.

12. A curve of hand rail having convex surface on upper side.

13. A pinned connection.

14. A centre set up in India to develop advanced software for producing supercomputers. (abbr.)

15. Nebulous patch of light surrounding the nucleus of a comet.

18. ……waves are electromagnetic radiations of radio frequencies travelling directly from transmitter to the receiving aerial.

19. Symbol for Tin.

21. Children having abnormal mental, social or intellectual development. (abbr.)

22. ……logy is the study of friction, wear, lubrication and design of bearings.

23. Part of circumference of a circle.

24. Prefix denoting a thousand million.

25. Group of objects or elements having atleast one common characteristic.


1. Lines drawn on a map to connect places of equal rainfall.

2. A hard, insoluble, white or colourless solid having high melting point and used in glass.

3. Aperture.

4. A part of human body above knee.

5. Cavities left in poorly laid concrete.

6. Process for extraction of Nickel using Carbon monoxide.

7. A stress applied to a body in the plane of one of its faces.

10. Branch of physical science dealing with behaviour of matter under action of force.

16. …logy, science related to urine analysis.

17. Abbr. for multi-national company.

20. National Institute of Tuberculosis in Bangalore. (abbr.)

23. Short for Assistant Engineer.


Solution to last week’s Crossword