Corporate, business and industrial data communication networks

June 2004 Infrastructure

Mobile voice communication has been the original intended use for various technologies, inclusive of radio, satellite and cellular technologies.

The rapidly increasing need for mobile data solutions has forced technologies like this to evolve into the state-of-the-art infrastructures we find ourselves depending on for day-to-day living. The peace of mind of knowing that your car is where you left it, and your parcel is safely on its way to its intended destination, on a truck you can be sure is being driven properly, are just a few examples of where mobile data transfer becomes fundamental components of business function.

Merging of various components, designed for ease of living, has provided data applications, a foundation on which new technologies have emerged. A perfect example of this is the 'intelligent home', where an Internet-enabled refrigerator can automatically order milk after detecting a shortage. Other technologies are also implemented to provide the user transparent control over the security, comfort and general running of a household.

The voice market has imposed itself into the data transfer market, through Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Although bandwidth providers do not look upon this method of conversation favourably, it remains the most cost-effective medium for voice communication. Cellular network service providers particularly disapprove of this voice communication method, largely because of the potential loss in revenue resulting from this, although the 'push-to-talk' concept has reared its head in some European GPRS carriers.

GPRS is one of the first steps to true 3G cellular telecommunication, originally designed to empower mainstream handset markets, with the ability to send multimedia messages, audio streaming and other features including faster WAP applications. Various formats of GSM/GPRS modems, with their functional user interfaces, allow the mobile office to become a reality. These technological wonders have given mobility to Internet connections, e-mail and fax over and above the general functions available through a cellular handset.

The most difficult obstacle to overcome when porting a circuit switched data application to GPRS, besides the need for implementation of TCP/IP protocol stacks, is the dynamic assignment of IP addresses by the network operators. For certain protocols over TCP/IP, like FTP, this is of no consequence, but continues to be a serious obstacle in the way of peer-to-peer communication between GPRS devices. It is possible to obtain fixed IP addresses for the devices and private access points within the network operator infrastructure, but at a cost, making it an unattractive solution for small-to-medium enterprises. Until IP6 becomes a commercial solution for Internet users, GPRS peer-to-peer communication will remain a developer's nemesis in the machine-to-machine data transfer industry.

Keeping abreast, at the rate at which communication networks are merging, has become an increasingly difficult task. GSM/GPRS handsets are Bluetooth and infrared enabled, capable of accessing the Internet backbone and ultimately communicating with devices on LANs, ISDN, industrial and process control networks and so forth. Furthermore, devices used for data transfer in vehicle and asset tracking and management systems are now available with onboard satellite positioning hardware and software components, allowing a complete product in one package (like the Wavecom's GPRS class10, automotive approved Q2501B module).

The future of the mobile communication market with regards to 3G technologies has yet to be decided. Wideband CDMA and UMTS are still going head-to-head for the preferred technology, although UMTS has started appearing in certain European countries, with bandwidth available for mobile video streaming - the video phone featured in James Bond and other Sci-Fi movies of the '80s - becoming a reality. The burning question still remains, where to from here?

For more information contact Trinity Telecomms, 011 465 7377, derick@trintel.co.za



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