Wednesday, August 25, 1999

Short Analysis: Wireless Data Access

Market Status

Much utility could be gained from allowing all types of information and services to be accessible via wireless devices;  the same type of information that is accessible via the web, for example: corporate data, banking, stocks, flight info, e-mail, news, calendar, maps/directions, instant messaging, multiplayer games, etc.

When talking about Wireless Devices, we're really talking about a wide range of tools:  cell-phones (Nokia, Motorola, etc.), PDA's (Palm, WinCE, Psion, etc.), and Pagers.


Currently, cell-phones have very limited data bandwidth, practical only for text-based communication.  Richer multimedia is waiting on the heels of "3G," the third-generation high-speed network.  The majority of cell-phone innovation is taking place in Europe, where a very high percentage of most populations have one.

The two most prominent platforms for data communication on cell-pones are SMS (simple message service) and WAP (wireless application protocol).  SMS allows for only very rudimentary communication; it only allows for short text messages to be sent from one SMS device to another.  WAP, however, is a complete operating environment for wireless applications.  Ideally, a person could browse the web on their cell-phone with a standard HTML-based browser.  However, because of the fact that a cell-phone's user interface (the very small screen, the limited data input capabilities, etc.) is so drastically different from a desktop PC, WAP emerged.

WAP relies on WML (Wireless Markup Language) which is an implementation of the XML standardized specifically for use on wireless devices.  WML is very similar to HTML, as they are both markup languages, however they have slight differences to accommodate for the cell-phone's limited interface:   WML uses a "Card Metaphor," where user interactions and navigations are split into "cards" (think "page").  A collection of cards are called a "deck" (think "site").  WML also makes use of WMLScript,  a scripting language derived from JavaScript.  WAP also includes an API for telephony operations (make calls, etc.) and utilizes standard formats for Business Cards, Calendar, Images, etc.

More information regarding the WAP standard can be found at: (details of WML comes in at about slide # 11)


This market consists of two different types of machines: PC Accessories (extension of the PC; like Palm, Visor, etc.) and Handheld PC's (roughly PC-equivalent, like most Windows CE machines; Cassiopia, Velo, Psion, etc.).

Wireless communications for these PDA's include the Palm VII with its built in modem and data service, and various wireless modems for the Palm III, Palm V, and WinCE devices.


One-way communication on paging devices has been around for quite some time, however, new paging devices are allowing two way information.


Here are a list of just some problems with these wireless data devices (of which successful companies will solve):

Privacy - Privacy becomes an increasingly bigger problem as, via these products, people and data will become more and more accessible.  Time management becomes even a bigger issue than it has previously been, as people will struggle balancing work and home life.  Some people claim ubiquitous access will allow them to work more efficiently, therefore creating more free time.  Others feel that it will allow work to encumber upon home life, driving up work expectations to get things done quickly.

Software Usability - like HTML, user interaction with these devices are not in real-time, and are therefore very poor.  Also, data input with these devices are very poor, and are limited to using tiny keyboards, on-screen keyboards, numeric keypads, and special pen-based languages.  Voice input and "Predictive Text Input" (where a dictionary tries to guess and complete the word a person is keying-in) are steps in solving the problem.  Many feel that voice-input naturally lends itself to wireless devices, voice being the inherent unbound communication tool for humans.

Software Portability - HTML introduced a very simple way to distribute applications, where a client device (a PC) simply "accesses" and uses software located on the server.  These wireless devices are following the same trend, however, the differences in these client devices (Phone, PDA, wristwatch) are far more extreme.  Tools that allow developers to easily port software efforts from one platform to another platform are essential.

Data Portability - Before having access to the network, most wireless devices "synchronized" with software in order to maintain data integrity.  This was due to the fact that there were two or more software packages (usually from different vendors with dissimilar interfaces) each with its own way of storing its data.  As applications become more "portable" (as described above) the need for multiple software packages with multiple data stores will decrease.  Data will be stored on one server and will be "accessed" by a myriad of different devices.  (See "Server Side Data and Networked Clients").

Interesting  Companies (formerly Unwired Planet,

Providers of software and services that allow for internet applications to be available via cell-phones.  They currently have the most mature WAP browser available.  Recently acquired @Motion, a company bringing voice-recognition technology to cell-phones.

GoAmerica (

Provider of web and e-mail access via RIM850 Pager (  GoAmerica's web browser is pure-text, and shows a web page without images.  Service is highly regarded among small group of users.  GoAmerica allows for unlimited free use while using their software and charges $0.20 per packet when using other software. (

Site created by Starfish Software that allows data to be inputted on one device and synchronizes that data with all other devices/services a person uses.  TrueSync is compatible with Motorola clipOn, REX, REX Pro, Palm, Windows CE, Outlook, SideKick, Act.  With a single mouse click, calendars, contacts, notes, and tasks are all synchronized among all devices and services, and data is even accessible on TrueSync's web site.

AvantGo (

Very popular tool for viewing web-based information on wireless devices.  AvantGo outputs data in Palm VII, Windows CE, and WAP format.  Has an AvantGo Enterprise product for making corporate data and applications available remotely.

* SqueezeNet (

Creating wireless web applications that can be accessible via any wireless device.  Partnering with a company called Syvax to create a real-time travel, lodging, and reservations system for wireless devices that is currently patent pending (

* "Page Info" Service (

Service created by one person that allows you to request useful information via a two-way pager or SMS phone.  Information includes flight info, weather, stocks, etc.  Service uses a simple, command driven language; commands such as "FLIGHT," "WWEATHER," and "STOCK" are entered into the device (along with the parameter(s) for the command) and the information is quickly sent back to you.

WebCab (

Non-profit organization trying to advance technology in wireless communications.  Allows a person to access POP3 e-mail account via WAP capable device.

ProxiNet (

Creators web browser for Palm OS, named ProxiWeb.  Company's goal is to allow internet information to be accessible on any device using any network.  The group that created this software is the same group that created Inktomi.  Browser uses ProxiWare; an intermediary piece of software that "retrieves HTML content from other Web servers, transforms the content, and delivers the reformatted content specifically to handheld devices for rendering by the ProxiWeb client."  This software does not require any effort from individual web sites in order for their site to be accessible via ProxiWeb client.

SmartCode Software (

Creators of web browser for PalmPilot and Palm III called "HandWeb" (however, not as sophistacared as ProxiWeb).  Also developed E-Mail and Faxing tools for Palm OS.

* ZTango (

Creators of platform for allowing data to be accessed via WAP compliant devices.

* Room33 (

Service accessible via web-site or WAP compliant device that allows for messaging (ICQ, SMS, FAX), Calendar, and Contacts.  Also, site has a "Directory" which essentially is a portal to other WAP applications. (NOTE:  This is the only tool I have heard of that allows Instant Messaging to be conducted via WAP!  Also, it is apparent in USENET newsgroups that there is great demand for a Yahoo-like directory of all WAP services that are available.)

Pixo (

VC-backed applications developer for wireless phones.  Created a web browser that natively access HTML.

AU-System (

Large Swedish software and consulting company specializing in communications via both voice and data.  AU-System is highly revered among industry-types, and is a powerhouse regarding WAP.  They developed a WAP browser for the Palm V.

Orange (

Large UK mobile phone company.  Creating a very interesting WindowsCE-based VideoPhone which will be available next year.

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