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Term encompasses growing market of products, services

When it comes to ‘wireless,’ what do you mean?

For the last several years, when consumers have talked wireless, the term has been synonymous with cell phones. Only recently have people started relating wireless technology to Internet access, which has led to consumer confusion, revamped marketing strategies, and begs the question: what exactly is wireless?

“Wireless has been a term made popular by the cell phone industry,” said David Hardy, president of CyberHighway in Jackson, which has been running a wireless network for three years, and was among the first to offer wireless Internet connection. “However, wireless networking devices have been around since before cell phones or pagers were conceived.”

From the consumer’s perspective, two major categories of wireless applications exist — wireless LANs (local area networks) and wireless WANs (wide area networks), Hardy said.

“Wireless LANs generally are thought of as existing within a confined space, such as an office or building, and use a specific type of device to provide wireless rather than wired connectivity between computers or components of the network,” he said.

“Wireless WANs do the same thing except they apply to a much larger area that may encompass multiple buildings, cities or even countries by combining wired and wireless segments.”

With the rapid growth of telecom technology, the term “wireless” not only refers to an industry but also to a multitude of products and services that can transmit and/or receive information or messages without the use of cables or lines, said Johnny Hales, spokesperson for Unity Communications in Jackson.

“Today, that would include the traditional products such as paging and cellular service as well as new services such as Internet access and cable television service,” Hales said.

Robert Phillips, president of TELECO/Southern Voice Networks in Jackson, said the most obvious definition perceived by consumers for wireless is the cell phone.

“Businesses use cell phones when key people are away from the office,” he said. “Some wired telephone extensions can be forwarded to a wireless phone to keep people in touch with their customers, suppliers and co-workers. Company operators can also transfer callers to an individual’s cell phone in many cases.”

Dig a little deeper into the company’s core operations and you’ll find other wireless uses in place, Phillips said.

“Some companies use simple 900-megahertz or 2.4-gigahertz phones, allowing them to roam around their office or a small to medium size facility,” he said. “For larger facilities, complete wireless adjuncts to an existing PBX, or telephone system, could be valuable. They cover a wider area than standard 900-Mhz or 2.4-Ghz telephone sets.”

Wireless video applications are a wireless option that has rarely been discussed but is extremely useful to some companies, Phillips said.

“It can be used in manufacturing facilities to check machine operation in a remote plant from virtually anywhere in the world,” he said. “It can also be used for telemedicine, remote learning, remote troubleshooting and even remote conference rooms within a larger operation. Surprisingly, wireless video can be relatively inexpensive as compared to full-scale conference room videoconference systems.”

Other wireless considerations include the types of devices used and the frequencies of radios. BellSouth, for instance, has a network that covers most of the southeastern U.S., including most of Mississippi, Hardy said.

“This is a wireless WAN that utilizes a specific device, such as a cell phone, and utilizes a specific licensed frequency,” he said. “Likewise, Sprint PCS is another network utilizing a specific type of device, such as a PCS phone, at a specific licensed frequency. The type of device and the frequency allow communications to take place and the technology supporting the device, such as PCS, digital or analog, that allow the device to provide different services through that device over that frequency. For example, the old analog devices did not allow text messaging, whereas newer digital devices do. As technology continues to advance, newer products will arise that will offer even more services over a single device, like Internet connectivity over the same device that you talk on.”

Consumers focus on, “What does wireless do for me?” and “How does wireless affect and improve my life?” said Tom Mateer, Sprint PCS’ vice president of affiliate marketing.

“Four areas define the new ‘wireless’ — clarity, coverage, connectivity and value,” Mateer said. “With clarity, wireless sounds as good as talking on a telephone at home. With coverage, wireless is a device to take with you in areas people typically live, work and play. Connectivity doesn’t apply to just a phone call, it relates to the entire communication network. People can use wireless for a voice conversation to contact people, and it allows them to connect to information services, such as checking a flight status or stock quotes, and other devices. At first, wireless connectivity was expensive and geared toward businesses. Now, the economics of the business have changed dramatically as services have been built for the mass market, and not solely targeted to the businessperson, but to all consumers, and that has led to value.”

In the Internet world, devices previously used for LANs are now starting to emerge as WAN components to provide data circuits between buildings and even between cities in some instances, Hardy said.

“One application of this technology is to provide Internet connectivity to customers using devices connected to a computer or a network,” he said. “This is nothing more than a WAN belonging to the ISP that allows customers to connect. In most cases this is a much more cost efficient choice as it bypasses the telephone company. In addition, the setup time is generally much shorter than a comparable wired circuit and the available bandwidth is higher. As technology advances, newer more capable applications will arise.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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