Editor’s note: This is the second in a five-part series from Local Tech Wire examining the arrival of 3G wireless services.For consumers, arguably the most fascinating part about the coming of 3G revolves around the gadgets that will be used to connect to the wireless Internet and how easy they are to use.

Frankly, many people will agree the current practice of typing text messages onto a cell phone pad is, in many cases, more of a hassle than it’s worth.

Of course the wireless providers themselves will decide which products customers can use on their networks, just like they do with cell phones, meaning consumers will have limited options in purchasing handheld devices. Regardless, some of the devices currently available for use over Verizon’s network are enticing to gadget heads, like Dave Marigold, an independent Web developer and self-professed tech junky living in suburban Atlanta.

Marigold is a new subscriber to Verizon’s Express Network and he recently purchased a Thera Pocket PC from Verizon for about $800 with a two-year service contract included. The Thera Pocket PC is a slick little machine runs on a Windows-based operating system, is fully Web compatible and contains the usual suspect Microsoft programs in Word, Excel and Internet Explorer, as well as faxing capabilities. Marigold says he is happy with the Thera and he finds it easy to use, especially in navigate through its plethora of menu options, but that his 3G experience is not all he’d hoped.

“It fits in my hand like a cell phone but for $800 I still think it’s difficult to type,” Marigold says. “I bought it because I’d rather spend the down time I have when I’m away from the office taking care of communications rather than setting aside a block of time for correspondence at the end of the day, and it is saving me time, I just thought it would save me more time. Maybe I just need to get used to it.”

Other handhelds compatible with the Express Network include the laptop-only Sierra Wireless Aircard 555 ($300), and for handsets the LG VX1 ($200) and the Kyocera 3035 at $60. All require a two-year contract and all are Web capable with tiny, color screens.

Sprint PCS, which is rolling out its Vision network, is working with partners like Hitachi and Samsung to roll out products similar to those that connect to the Express Network, a spokeswoman says. In fact, the company is inviting media members for extensive demonstrations on Thursday at a Cary location.
Sony Ericsson’s North American headquarters are located in Research Triangle Park but company officials say “mum” is the word on what projects the company is working on here. A spokeswoman for Sony Ericsson only revealed that “there is some 3G work being done here,” but she declined further comment.

Number of users about to explode

Many industry observers seem to agree that it will be some time before consumers warm up to the idea of subscribing to an always-on, high-speed wireless Internet connection. However, studies predicting the growth of the mobile Internet industry show that even though new cell phone subscriptions are leveling off the number of wireless Internet customers is about to explode.

For instance, Cap Gemini America and Corechange, Inc. finds that the number of consumers living in the U.S. who use their cell phones for wireless data applications will increase from the current level of three percent to about 80 percent during the next year. Another study by The Intermarket Group says the number of U.S. mobile Internet users will increase from 2 million people in 2000 to 89 million in 2005.

Around the globe the numbers are even more staggering – more than 194 million Europeans will connect to the Internet via a wireless device by 2005, in Asia subscribers will leap from 30 million to 79 million, and in Latin America more than 52 million users will be online compared to just 100,000 in 2000, the study finds.

That doesn’t necessarily mean those subscribers will connect over a 3G connection. First of all it may not be possible to roam from service area to service area because not all of the network equipment used by the wireless carriers is compatible with each other. Verizon and Sprint PCS both use CDMA, or Code Division Multiple Access technology, while AT&T Wireless, Cingular Wireless and VoiceStream each use GPRS, or General Packet Radio Service. (Note: For those who enjoy ogling over how hardware works, CDMA allows multiple users to share service channels by adding a unique code to each data signal. GPRS is a packet switching system that adds new control channels and gateways to in-use GSM systems.)

The network equipment manufacturers say the potential for 3G’s rollout being hindered by incompatible networks is secondary to educating consumers about the conveniences new services and technologies promise to offer. David Poticny, vice president of mobility solutions for Lucent Technologies, says he thinks the wireless industry isn’t doing enough to educate consumers about pricing plans.

“The future is here and now, today,” says David Poticny. “Unfortunately, it is not happening in the U.S.”

Defining the terminology: www.localtechwire.com/article.cfm?u=1698&k=23&l=10

Part One in Series: 3G Is Off to a Global Slow Start www.localtechwire.com/article.cfm?u=1684