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Converged Devices >> Waiting on the Wave

Are you prepared to handle the information needs of the next wave of college students? Start planning now, to prevent a tsunami of mobile devices from overwhelming your wireless networks.

Waiting on the WaveAsh Dyer is building the ultimate digital playground for college students and residents in Cambridge, MA. As a researcher for MIT’s Project Airnet, Dyer this year is helping to deploy a citywide wireless mesh network that will be free for all Cambridge residents and students. But the Cambridge network isn’t the only one of its kind. Across the country, universities are helping towns and cities deploy public broadband systems that will ultimately serve millions of students, residents, and businesses. Eager proponents of these broadband WiFi systems include such schools as Ball State University (IN) and Case Western Reserve University (OH). As each new public broadband network comes online, it paves the way for new types of mobile devices to hop on to the internet. It also sets the stage for universities to rework their existing applications for mobile access.

“Potentially, any server-based function can be reformatted for small-screen display and touchpad interaction,” asserts H. O’Neal Smitherman, vice president for information technology and CIO at Ball State. “Even such functions as class cancellations through Blackboard are possible.”

What a boon for students; they simply crave that type of mobile power—and a whole lot more. Today, more than half of Harvard Medical School (MA) students carry personal digital assistants (PDAs) such as iPods, Palm handhelds, Pocket PCs, and smart phone devices, according to a recent survey by Harvard Medical School (see charts in this article). And nearly 20 percent of the survey participants say they’re eager to hear class lectures as podcasts, and to view lectures as digital videos on their portable devices.

Yet despite such lofty goals, it’s important to remember that the mobile revolution remains in its early stages. For instance, only 5 percent of students use their PDAs and cell phones for e-mail services, according to Harvard’s survey results.

Vendors are feverishly working to develop new capabilities for mobile phones.

Still, there’s growing evidence that students want to trade in their laptops for smaller mobile devices. According to focus groups conducted by Wireless Harlem, a nonprofit public broadband advocate in New York City, most people ages 16 to 30 want laptop-type functionality squeezed into their smart phones. “Wireless Harlem also found that this age group wasn’t swayed by advertisements, but relied much more on word of mouth,” says Dyer. “Therefore, if you see something adopted by a group of students, you can expect it to become somewhat of an epidemic.”

The Road Ahead: Dual Mode

University CIOs and their municipal counterparts will need to ensure that broadband systems provide plenty of bandwidth for hundreds of different devices used by thousands—and perhaps even millions—of users. Some university WiFi networks are already clogged with too many users. Moreover, universities must somehow provide wireless network access while safeguarding student privacy.

Waiting on the Wave

Do You Own a PDA? Students may be better primed
than you thought for expanded mobile data delivery.
Above, the percentage of Harvard Medical School
students owning a personal digital assistant.

Not surprisingly, many colleges are testing endpoint security solutions and next-generation encryption technologies. Among the most promising offerings is identity-based encryption (IBE), which uses e-mail information to protect user identities; Voltage Security and several other start-ups are working overtime to popularize IBE.

To be sure, tomorrow’s college campuses will be filled with converged devices that allow students to easily roam between cellular networks, WiFi networks, and other types of broadband systems. The rise of so-called dualmode phones—which move seamlessly between cellular and WiFi networks— appears inevitable. Worldwide shipments of dual-mode handsets are expected to skyrocket from a few hundred thousand units this year to 300 million units in 2011, according to market research firm ABI Research.

In fact, dozens of companies—from Apple to T-Mobile USA—are exploring opportunities in the dual-mode sector. A typical dual-mode phone will contain a GSM/CDMA/W-CDMA cellular radio and an IEEE 802.11 (WiFi) radio, notes Wikipedia. Not to be slow out of the gate, in October 2006, T-Mobile launched one of North America’s first dual-mode phone services. It uses unlicensed mobile access (UMA), a standard that allows cellular calls to seamlessly hop to voice over WiFi (VoWiFi) hotspots. The big benefit: Students who adopt dual-mode phones will reduce their need for monthly cellular minutes by placing some calls over WiFi connections. The T-Mobile service supports the Nokia 6136 and Samsung T709 devices. Each costs $50 with a two-year contract and a voice plan starting at $39.99 per month.

Waiting on the Wave

If You Own a PDA, Which Kind? Harvard medical
students go for iPods and Palms. Which converged
devices will your students favor?

“Dual-mode wireless phones will become significant devices on the college campus for two major reasons,” says Ball State’s Smitherman. “First, with WiFi as well as cellular speeds, the platform potentially enables a wide array of functions that are not possible at traditional cellular speeds. Second, vendors and institutions are feverishly working to develop new capabilities for phones, as well as port existing capabilities to phone platforms.”

Despite recent momentum, however, dual-mode phones have suffered from several false starts. In mid-2006, Cisco Systems and Motorola scrapped plans to jointly build a dual-mode phone because the device, by design, would only work with Cisco’s back-end networks.

“It would have been akin to making a PC that only works with Cisco’s networks but nobody else’s,” says tech consultant Ed Golod, president of New York-based Revenue Accelerators. “That approach would have been suicide. It would have severely limited the device’s popularity.”

7 Companies Worth Watching

Apple Unveiled iPhone in January and plans to ship the dual-mode device in June. Currently locked in a lawsuit over the iPhone name with Cisco Systems (see listing below).

Aruba Networks Developing Mobile Voice Continuity software that supports call handoffs between WLAN and cellular networks.

Cisco Systems Scrapped a dual-mode phone project with Motorola in 2006; now developing numerous devices on its own. Linksys subsidiary also has announced its first dual-mode devices.

Netgear Introduced its first dual-mode devices supporting traditional phone services and Skype (see listing below).

Nokia 6136 UMA device can switch seamlessly between GSM and WLAN.

Skype Launching WiFi-only handsets, manufactured by Belkin International, Edge-Core, Netgear, and SMC Networks.

Symbol Technologies Acquired by Motorola in January, Symbol is developing a wireless switch that manages handoffs of dual-mode phone calls. The product is slated to ship in Q2 2007.

Today, Cisco and Motorola each are designing dual-mode phones that interoperate with all types of WiFi networks. In December, the Linksys division of Cisco announced iPhone—a family of dual-mode phones that support traditional phone lines and VoIP services. Students can, for instance, use the phones to access Skype or standard phone lines. It’s unclear if or when Linksys plans to add cellular support.

Opportunity Rings for Apple

Of course, Linksys isn’t the only company developing an “iPhone” device. Apple made worldwide headlines when it launched a dual-mode phone under the “iPhone” moniker during the Macworld Expo in January. (Apple and Cisco are currently embroiled in litigation over the iPhone name.) Apple has been studying the converged phone market for several years, and in 2005 tested the mobile phone market. A partnership that year with Cingular and Motorola generated an iTunes-compatible cell phone, but frustrated students couldn’t buy music directly via the phone and the device never gained widespread popularity. Throughout 2006, the web buzzed with rumors that Apple was developing a dual-mode phone on its own. But the rumors remained unsubstantiated until Apple CEO Steve Jobs finally unveiled the iPhone.

“I think Apple really took its time evaluating this market,” says Jonathan Mendelson, director of business development for devices at CA-based BoingoWireless. “You have to consider such variables as battery life. And Apple also had to consider how a mobile phone would manage downloads in the field. I think it’s clear that they didn’t want to launch a product before it was ready for prime time.”

Waiting on the Wave

How Do You Use Your PDA? Information, please!
It’s not just for appointments anymore...

Will Apple’s iPhone catch on with a new generation of college students? MIT’s Dyer thinks the iPhone will only appeal to deep-pocketed kids who can afford the device’s starting price of $499. “The thing about the student population is that they’re mobility-driven and fashion-fickle,” he says. “For many students, cost is a major factor, so they’ll pick the most inexpensive options. For others, it’s functionality and applications— either the coolest thing, or just what they need for their daily lives.” For example, he notes, international students like T-Mobile devices because they can send instant messages to Europe with no additional charges.

Making Roaming a Reality

Another big stumbling point for today’s wireless devices involves roaming. Many dual-mode phones, for instance, can’t easily roam between cellular and WiFi services. Here again, progressive universities are striving to save the day. MIT’s Living the Future project, for one, is creating Amulet: a combination personal router and personal information manager that has built-in radios for many communication methods (WiFi, WiMAX, cellular, etc.). “Basically, you can roam from network to network without ever noticing it,” says MIT’s Dyer.

6 Considerations for Dual-Mode Success

Thinking about a dual-mode rollout on your own campus? Here’s what you need to know, in a nutshell.

  1. Customer buys a dual-mode phone and connects a special WiFi router to a broadband connection (DSL, cable, etc.).
  2. Phone automatically recognizes local home, dorm, office, or commercial hotspots.
  3. When the phone is in range of the WiFi network, it seamlessly routes any cellular calls through the WiFi network and onto the internet.
  4. If the transfer is seamless, the caller will not notice any difference during the switch between networks, and his cellular minutes will not add up while on the WiFi network.
  5. The whole operation can be controlled by a mobile carrier or worked in conjunction with an established internet telephone provider.
  6. Eventually, services for dual-mode devices can be expanded to leverage public WiFi hotspots or citywide wireless deployments.


Similarly, Boingo has developed an online service that allows students to roam seamlessly between retail hotspot locations. The company also is designing open source software that cell phone companies and mobile device makers can embed in their products. Eager adopters include Belkin International, which embraced Boingo’s software and designed a WiFi device that allows students to roam between commercial hot spots.

Instead of hitching its wagon to a single operating system, Boingo’s open source software runs on the vast majority of mobile platforms, including Qualcomm’s BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless), Linux , and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 2003 and Windows Mobile 5.0 versions, with support for other operating systems set to debut this year.

Waiting on the Wave

Which Types of Mobile Apps Would Most
Improve Your Educational Experience?
Anything you've got!

Despite these dual-mode advancements, skeptics remain. “I’m a bit dubious about the adoption of dual-mode phones by students,” says Dyer. “Their adoption is driven by a small set of applications.” And in truth, when it comes to mobile applications, students are most interested in social networking and streaming music/video. “The only way dual-modes will catch on,” he adds, “is if students realize the new devices can deliver those applications so much better than their current service.” Instead of focusing on bandwidth-intensive video applications, universities might be wise to start slowly with mobile applications that deliver simple —but highly valuable—calendaring and scheduling capabilities.

Concludes Ball State’s Smitherman: “How much would a student appreciate a message on his ever-present communication device, indicating that a class has been cancelled? There would be no need to leave a warm, cozy bed, only to trek through the snow to a class with a cancellation note on the door.”

Ah, to sleep, perchance to dream. Anything’s possible with today’s mobile devices.

WEBEXTRA :: Learn about other schools ahead of the curve with mobile devices: click here.

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