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Wireless options for your PDA

Wireless-enabled PDAs are on the rise. Here's an overview of what's available and advice to help decide your wireless path.

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Wireless-enabled PDAs are on the rise. According to In-Stat/MDR, three-quarters of the PDAs sold by 2007 will have embedded wireless. But PDAs without wireless don't have to miss the party. Add-ons are available to bring your PDA on-line right now. For starters, decide which kind of "wireless" suits your needs.

Wireless PANs

Several PDAs - like HP's iPAQ H2200 and Fujitsu's LOOX 600 - ship with 802.15 Bluetooth on-board. Bluetooth is a "cable replacement" technology that uses short-range radio to interconnect portable personal devices like telephone headsets and PC peripherals. Designed to minimize power consumption on small devices, Bluetooth can deliver 780 Kbps and reach 10 meters.

Bluetooth can be used to create Personal Area Networks (PANs). For example, connect your wireless headset to your Bluetooth-enabled cellphone, MP3 player and PDA. Or use Bluetooth to transfer files between your PC, digital camera, fax machine and PDA.

According to In-Stat/MDR, Bluetooth is good in dusty environments, like manufacturing and mining, and for short-distance applications with low-power needs, like patient monitors and machine sensors. Perhaps the largest deployment is healthcare, where Bluetooth provides access to medical equipment and patient data. Other key verticals include communication, transportation, utilities and retail.

Wireless LANs

Palm's Tungsten C, Toshiba's e740 and HP's iPAQ H5450 all ship with 802.11 Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is a local area network (LAN) technology that uses short-range radio to connect wireless stations to each other and to wired-network access points. Designed as a wireless-world version of Ethernet, Wi-Fi reaches 300-500 feet indoors. PDAs currently ship with 11 Mbps 802.11b, but watch for 54 Mbps 802.11a and 802.11g in the future.

Wireless LANs are big in home networks, linking PCs with broadband gateways that enable shared Internet access. WLAN hotspots are found in hotels, cafes and airports - venues where customers will pay for Internet access but wires are impractical. As for business, JupiterMedia reports that WLANs have penetrated verticals like manufacturing, education, banking, healthcare, government, utilities and retail.

802.11 is a good fit where network access is needed by stations within a few hundred feet of the nearest access point. Wi-Fi is a natural for computing devices (desktops, laptops, more powerful PDAs) that run applications requiring high-speed access (Web browsing, low-quality voice/video over IP, enterprise client/server applications.) 802.11 can also be used for bridging - for example, tying adjacent building networks together.

Wireless WANs

Palm's Zire 71, Handspring's Treo 300, and RIM's BlackBerry 6710 are among PDAs shipping with "3G" wireless WAN support. Older circuit-switched data services like GSM, CDMA and iDEN delivered just 9.6-19.2 Kbps over wide-area networks (WANs). Last year, carriers began rolling out faster services using CDMA2000 1XRTT and GPRS. Early deployments deliver 50+ Kbps, but speed will increase over time.

Unlike Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, 3G operates in licensed spectrum owned by carriers like Verizon Wireless, Cingular Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint PCS. Many 3G-enabled PDAs are "smart phones" that support both voice and data. PDAs must be matched to carrier networks - for example, the Treo 300 uses Sprint's CDMA2000 network, while the BlackBerry and Zire talk to GSM and GPRS networks.

3G fits interactive applications requiring true anytime/anywhere network access. Today's 3G can support instant messaging, email checking, and brief enterprise application or web server queries. Industries with highly-mobile workforces are drawn to 3G to support applications like salesforce automation, supply chain management and remote device monitoring. Speeds must increase and coverage must expand before long-term goals like video conferencing and full-motion video over IP can be achieved.

What's next

Once you decide which kind(s) of wireless are right for you, the next step is selecting a platform. Do you want a PDA with built-in wireless? Or do you want to add wireless adapter(s) to an existing PDA? In our next tip, we'll take a look at deployment alternatives for adding wireless PAN, LAN and WAN services to PDAs.

Do you have comments about this article, or suggestions for Lisa to write about in future columns? Let us know!

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