Web Phones: Now You're Talking
The cellular data drought, which has left Americans way behind the rest of the world in their ability to use mobile phones as versatile communications devices, may be coming to an end. On Sept. 20, Sprint PCS Group (PCS) (www.sprintpcs.com) dramatically expanded the availability of mobile communications in the U.S. by offering data capability on its national network.
The new services consist of two pieces. The one that will get the most attention--and certainly the most advertising hype from Sprint PCS--is the ability to browse the Internet and send and receive e-mail directly from a new breed of so-called Web phones. But the part that I think most mobile professionals will find far more useful is the ability to use a PCS phone as a wireless modem for laptops. Pricing ranges from a $9.95 monthly add-on to existing Sprint accounts to a $180 plan that gives 1,200 monthly minutes of voice or data airtime.
BUYING OPTIONS. Many new wireless phones, ranging from the $400 multifunction NeoPoint 1000 to the $100 Qualcomm QCP-1960 Thin Phone, can be used as modems. You just connect the phone to a serial port on your laptop (infrared and universal serial bus options would be welcome improvements) and run the free Sprint software that lets Windows recognize your phone as a modem and creates ''wireless'' copies of any dial-up networking connections. Once it's done, you can get to your Internet service provider just as if you were connected to a phone line. The nominal speed is 14,400 bits per second, though the effective speed can drop below that if you have a weak signal. Web browsing at that speed is painful, but it's fine for e-mail.
The main thing that keeps this system from being as good as the wireless data service in Europe (BW--Aug. 9) is spotty network coverage. Sprint's urban service is generally good, though there is none, for example, in Princeton, N.J., Augusta, Me., or Albuquerque. Outside urban areas, service is scarce, and even within them there are frustrating dead spots. For example, I got an excellent signal inside the terminal at Detroit Wayne County Metropolitan Airport but none at the Hertz lot.
To test the new Web browsing and messaging services, I used a phone from NeoPoint (www.neopoint.com). The NeoPoint 1000, a slender 5 1/2-inches-long, 6.4-ounce phone features a mini-browser, e-mail program, and an address book, calendar, and to-do list. The 11-line, 24-character liquid-crystal display works well only on sites that have been specially formatted for limited displays. The available sites are the usual mix of headlines from ABC and Yahoo!, forecasts from the Weather Channel, stock quotes, and flight information from TheTrip.com. The Phone.com browser lets you visit any Web site, but most pages are unreadable.
There are actually two e-mail services: the pager-like PCS short message service and Internet mail. Both are hampered by the difficulty of entering data using a phone keypad. NeoPoint uses a technology called T9 from Tegic Communications that guesses, mostly successfully, whether you want, say, an m, n, or o when you push 6. It helps, but not enough.
The limitations of the phone package also hinder the organizer functions. The phone syncs to a variety of desktop contact managers using Puma Technology's (PUMA) IntelliSync software. But it ought to warn you when you're about to overwhelm the phone's memory, not just dump data until it runs out of room. My contact list only made it to the Ms. Navigation of contacts, calendar, and to-do list is also awkward compared to a device like a Palm handheld.
Although phone-based organizers are improving, the limitations of display and data entry in a unit small enough to make an acceptable phone may discourage the use of all-in-one devices. I would prefer to use my Palm V or a Windows CE device--or any other handheld--to enter and display data and have the phone tucked away in my pocket or briefcase as a wireless modem. This sounds like a Buck Rogers fantasy, but the short-range radio communications technology, known as Blue Tooth, is under active development and could show up in cell phones and other consumer products by the end of next year.
My experiments with wireless data communications have convinced me that this technology can really make life easier for mobile professionals. The bad news is that the U.S. still lags behind the rest of the world, the upside is that the situation is improving and the new devices and services hitting the market will help close the gap.
Questions? Comments? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or fax (202) 383-2125
By STEPHEN H. WILDSTROM
TABLE: Cellular Data Services
TECHNOLOGY AND DATA SERVICE
ANALOG 19.2 kilobits per second
CellularOne (requires special modem)
DIGITAL CELLULAR Short message service*
Bell Atlantic Mobile
PCS CDMA 14.4 kb/s, Web browsing,
Sprint PCS e-mail, short messages
PCS TDMA Short messages*
GSM Voicestream, 9.6 kb/s, short
Pactel Wireless messages
IDEN Short messages
*Some phones may be equipped for Web browsing and e-mail
using separate cellular digital packet data service.
DATA: COMPANY REPORTS
Justice vs. Microsoft: Readers Give Their Verdict
The Technology & You column ''What I Would Do About Microsoft'' invited readers to express their opinions on how the federal government's antitrust case against the software giant should be resolved--and they weren't shy about replying. Here's a sampling of the opinions business week columnist Stephen H. Wildstrom received:
I think Netscape Communicator has a better feel and look about it than Internet Explorer does, but I should be able to integrate my browser of choice into Windows. This is true of any plug-in I want, such as [RealNetworks'] RealPlayer, [Apple Computer's] QuickTime, or other features that I believe are better then those offered by Microsoft (MSFT).
It would be beneficial to all consumers if Microsoft were forced (in the interest of fairness and competition) to sell desktop space in Windows products. The biggest advantage Microsoft has is the ability to put whatever it likes onto the desktop. To be fair, let's put links or icons that allow me (the consumer) to choose what I want. This resolves the government's major argument about how Microsoft leverages its monopoly.
I have not liked Microsoft's tactics in the past and don't use their products because of massive security issues. But breaking the company into many different pieces won't work, either.
As I see it, the government's case is that Microsoft should not be allowed to compete as others compete because of its dominant position in the market. And, in effect, the government is asking the court to force Microsoft to engineer its software to allow Netscape and Sun [Microsystems] (SUNW) to compete with it.
Microsoft's anticompetitive activity was to change software to make it harder for Netscape and Sun to do this. Creating such a level playing field is a waste of government resources because, in the end, Netscape was not smart enough to play at the level [Microsoft Chairman William H.] Gates plays at. The best competitive advantage Microsoft has is Bill Gates. Does anyone doubt that Netscape could have effectively competed with Microsoft if Gates had been in charge of Netscape?
Gates and Intel (INTC) ultimately beat IBM not by [government] fiat that forced IBM to make competing with it easier but by gaining control of key technology and selling it at high volume and low prices. They did not need a level playing field.
Microsoft's bullying to force pc makers and distributors to set up desktops that promote only Microsoft products is wrong and should be curtailed. However, barring Microsoft from expanding or enhancing its products would be an injustice to the consumer. Bill Gates is absolutely correct in saying that innovation and competition must be allowed to remain fluid in this industry. I hope that Judge [Thomas P.] Jackson has the insight to decide in favor of the consumer and not the Justice Dept. or Microsoft.
I am a shareholder, so my opinions are biased. I believe that what Microsoft did to its competitors goes on each day with many companies in many different industries. To punish the company harshly, I think, would open the doors to many lawsuits against many other companies. There are others that have large shares of their markets, and they continue to expand to capture the part they don't have. Wal-Mart Stores comes to mind.
Even if I were offered another operating system besides Windows, I probably wouldn't accept it. I have neither the time nor the inclination to try to learn computer operating systems. If it were not for a system like Microsoft's Windows, I probably wouldn't have bought a computer.
Hal B. Lovett
Microsoft's greatest sin is the clouding of the distinction between operating system and application. Internet Explorer is an application. It, in itself, is not necessary to operate a computer. The fact that Internet Explorer, along with all other applications, uses programming interfaces common to other applications and the operating system does not make it part of the operating system.
This continued clouding of the issue works to the detriment of other software vendors and thus the final customers. The addition of features to the operating system and the way that is done lessen the flexibility of other application developers.
Apple Valley, Minn.
Do you really believe the government has a snowball's chance in hell of making Microsoft play fair? Is the record not stunningly obvious on Microsoft's ability and willingness to get around or ignore any language the court might use?
Microsoft should be broken into at least three competing companies. The irony is that the person who would gain the most is Bill Gates, just as the people who would have benefited most from a breakup of IBM when it had a very large antitrust suit would have been IBM's stockholders. Instead, the stockholders suffered for a long time.
One can never know what might have been, and that is why it is so difficult to measure the damage Microsoft has done to consumers. Lack of competition kills innovation. It's that simple. The government has shown that Microsoft is unwilling to play fair. That should not be surprising. History tells the same story over and over.
Paul P. Budnik Jr.
Basically, I agree with your position. however, the roadblocks to consumers' freedom of choice should be removed. I believe that Judge Jackson should allow consumers to have the ability to evaluate competing systems easily without going through a labyrinth of maneuvers to do so.
For example, if I want to install Netscape and experiment with it as my default browser, it should be a simple procedure. Try downloading Netscape via Internet Explorer and making it your default. Internet Explorer 5.0 may be better in your judgment, but it has unacceptable incompatibilities with some of my essential software, such as Lotus Notes.
If this is a veiled method of steering my company to Microsoft's Notes competitor, it's an unfair practice to which I've become all too accustomed.
Mill Valley, Calif.
[I have downloaded and installed Netscape Communicator many times using Internet Explorer. When you install Netscape Communicator, it makes itself your default browser without asking. The fact is, both Microsoft and Netscape play the kind of games that make consumers' lives harder. S.W.]
I completely agree with your proposed advice for Judge Jackson. In my opinion, the issue never was antitrust--possibly just the bigger kid on the block bullying the smaller guys. But even that analogy falls short of ''supportable rationale'' when you consider the agility of technology companies (software and hardware) in today's markets.
Microsoft should not be permitted to force consumers to buy software products they don't need. I'm told when buying a new computer from the major providers--such as Compaq Computer (CPQ), Gateway (GTW), etc.--that I must take certain Microsoft software whether or not I want or need it. The computer manufacturer will not permit me to opt for a software product other than the Microsoft product because, they claim, Microsoft has a bundling contract. This is one way the consumer is hurt.
Frank A. Buono
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Web Phones: Now You're Talking
TABLE: Cellular Data Services
Justice vs. Microsoft: Readers Give Their Verdict
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