Mobile Computing

The Mobile World

In recent years, wireless telecommunications have become a common subject of technical research papers. The new trend in technology is to provide users with the ability to have all they could possibly need in a pocket-sized device. This is due to the rapid development attained in wireless technology. Smaller and powerful Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), laptop computers, palm pilots, hand-held devices and mobile phones are hitting the market, incorporating brand new features designed to let the users work and access documents in whatever situation they are in.

New technologies are bound to spread much faster than the old ones. There is no longer a neat division between different categories of people. Technology available to business men is now equally available to teenagers. Although the markets for different categories of people are very different, they can all benefit from new and interesting services. Thus the world is becoming an increasingly wireless one with the bombardment of quite a number of slim and sleek wireless devices as the current trend is obviously toward smaller and faster devices.

Everywhere mobile phones are becoming the common thing and it is estimated that their growth rate is far greater than PCs. Consumers have accepted mobile telecommunications with open arms and their enthusiasm shows no sign of abating. Although fears about safety are yet to be conclusively disproved, consumers show inclination to pay for the unique services they provide and for the ability to send and receive information while they are on the move. The mobile phone has become a part of daily life for many people, and together with a watch, is the only electronic device that many people carry around everywhere with them, all day long. In Japan, almost half of the total population have cell phones.

This age is being appropriately termed as "Information age". The information processing systems like computers make this possible for us. Wherever we are and whatever the topic, we have come to take for granted the availability of information, through the computer. If the human eye were able to see the full electro-magnetic spectrum, we would be faced with the sight of a mind-boggling quantity of information being exchanged. However, a major bottleneck has been predicted for this data utopia at the beginning of this millennium. That bottleneck is the computer itself. Constant improvements have kept the price of a PC reasonably high to keep the purchase of a computer at the bottom of many people's list of priorities. Furthermore, there are still many people that do not feel the need for, or do not feel like playing around with, devices that they see as too technical. Some others sits in front of a computer all day long and therefore need something else in their spare time. These developments indicate that the world is moving towards the mobile world.

The Internet and Mobility

On the other side, the Internet fever has been catching every one and growing at an astonishing pace in terms of the number of people using it, the amount of information stored on it, the business being done on it, and the accessing speed through optical fiber cables. In less than ten years, it has gone from being the realm of academics and enthusiasts, through a period of widening acceptance, to a stage where more elegant businesses are being conducted. When the public or the media talk about the Internet, they are almost always talking about the World Wide Web - in everyday parlance, the two have become practically synonymous. With the advance of the Internet, e-commerce has now grown to enormous proportions; online banking, trading and shopping have proven to be such a success that the goal of business has become the provision of services that are available from anywhere.

Mobility is the new buzzword in the business world. Mobility is the ability to access information and services any time, anyhow, anywhere. The information might be an e-mail message, flash news, the phone number of a client one has to talk to, and the latest sales figures.

It is time that the Internet moved on from the PC. We now have Internet capable televisions and games consoles, and with a few years, we should see the introduction of Internet-enabled Hi-Fi systems. And with the advent of cheap, reliable mobile phones capable of the Internet, there seems to be a major opportunity for a powerful and real mobile data service. Thus the days are not far away when the applications of the Internet are available through mobile phones. The convergence of these two path-breaking technologies is all set to make the greatest ever impact on mankind.

Mobile Applications and Standards

There are a quite number of exciting and thrilling applications and services for mobile phone users. It is being expected that this astonishing growth of mobile telephone industry all over the world is the precursor to an equally impressive mobile information industry, in which people can avail data and services from wherever they are by requesting or/and subscribing. Thus, mobile computing is a term to describe technologies that enable people to access various network services anyplace, anytime and anywhere. Mobile Computing is becoming increasingly important due to the rise in the number of portable computing devices and the desire to have connectivity to the Internet irrespective of the physical location.

The services include banking applications, online shopping and checking stock quotes. The goal here is to extend enterprise applications to incorporate the mobile client also. Thus the boundary of office is getting extended to include any location in which worker might be - at home, at a conference site, traveling and so on.

Cellular phone companies have grown tremendously with a large base of customers, but with low average air time. To arrest this trend, cellular providers started to provide data services in addition to voice transmission through mobile devices. Typical data services include chat, e-mail, Internet browsing. Nowadays users can send a maximum of 160-character message at a time in a (Global System for Mobile communications) GSM cellular network and this service is called Short Message Service (SMS). GSM networks provide another interesting service called General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) that allows information to be sent and received across the cellular network.

There has also been a recent effort defining common standards for providing data services on hand-held devices. Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) defined by WAP forum and Kilobyte Virtual Machine (KVM) from Sun Microsystems Ltd. are the two prominent standards. WAP is a suite of protocols tailored for wireless devices and runs over an underlying bearer protocol like IP or SMS. In the WAP standard, a service provider operates a WAP gateway to convert Internet content, which is in HTML to WML format to be sent and displayed on the mobile device browser. Companies like Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola have already developed WAP-enabled devices.

The above mentioned KVM, a lightweight version of Java VM and a platform-independent standard, came as Sun Microsystems's answer to the different mobile device platforms. There are three leading mobile device platforms namely Windows Consumer Electronics (CE), Symbian's EPOC and 3Com's PalmOS.

Limitations of Mobile Devices

The Internet as it is now is not well suited to the mobile phone. It is typically too complex and takes up too much bandwidth and a web page would generally not fit onto the screen of our average mobile phone. While the third generation of wireless technology called as 3G should go some way to ease the bandwidth problem, there are still more other problems that need to be tackled, before the Internet and mobile devices can be brought together. For example, there is no standard keyboard on a mobile phone, so it is much harder for a user to enter information on their phone relative to a PC. Also the mobile phone screen is very small and so can not display much text at any one time and will struggle with complex graphics. Thus on any account, a mobile phone is not as powerful as a PC.

Thus, the downside for mobile computing specifically for mobile devices is obvious. Unlike their wired counterparts, information access and computing via a mobile device is severely affected by low bandwidth, poor connection maintenance,and lack of security. Further to compound these drawbacks, mobile devices have been blessed with smaller display size, and low durable battery cell coupled with less memory. This implies that new hardware and software techniques have to be developed to tackle these inherent disadvantages of mobile devices.

If we are going to allow Internet access from a mobile phone, we first need to take into account these limitations of this wireless device. The Internet protocols (TCP/IP and HTTP) are far from being suitable for use with wireless telecommunication. These protocols come with too many overheads, requiring many messages between clients and server just to set up a connection. These overheads naturally call for a high processing power on the client machine.

In addition, there is a second limitation connected to the internal structure of wireless networks. This is the sustained waiting time, called latency. Basically, the content from the Web server has to go through various elements in the mobile network before reaching mobile phones. As each element in the mobile network slows down a bit and the air interface used to transmit data to mobile telephones has a smaller bandwidth, the information transmission rate is at the most 9600 bit per second, which is too slow when compared with wired counterparts. Thus the Internet protocols, which send larger messages, are bound to suffer due to this latency problem. To overcome such vital issues, there are some turnarounds proposed by many mobile phone companies all over the world. Some of them are listed below.

Tools and Technologies

The content provider has to go for space optimization. As it is found that HTML, the de-facto mark-up language, is not good for providing information contents to mobile devices, alternative mark-up languages have sprouted in the recent past from different groups. They include Hand-held Device Mark-up Language (HDML), Wireless Mark-up Language (WML) from WAP forum and Compact HTML from NTT, Japan.

For mobile devices, the good old TCP/IP stack of protocols can not be used as it takes too much space and is not optimized for minimal power consumption. WAP forum has come out with a number of optimized protocols namely WSP, WDP and WTP.

Also UP.browser has designed a mini-browser and is being prevalently used. Several cellular phone manufacturers have embedded this browser in their products.

Click for Mobile Computing - Links

Click for WAP - An Overview

Click for WML - An Overview

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