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My View from a Parachute

by Mark Sedenquist

A few years ago for my birthday I received as a gift a trip to a one-day parachute jump school. My static-line jump at the end of the day was made all the more memorable by joining the special events squad of the 101st Airborne Division in their rental aircraft. They were using the airfield that day to practice for an upcoming competition. My own short flight under the parachute was not entirely "by the numbers" and memories of that slightly surreal descent were triggered by my attempts to understand more of the wireless world this week.

What I remember most about my descent under that parachute was how orderly (& small) the vegetation looked on the ground. But the lower I went the more the neat brown and green lines seemed to merge. As I neared the landing zone, I noticed that downward velocity seemed to be increasing and that what appeared to be some bushes were inexplicably now in view directly below my feet. After I landed-- not exactly a perfect execution of the touch-and-roll technique I had been taught-- I was surprised to discover that the orderly green landscape seen from 2800 feet had metamorphosed into a complex ecosystem of tall shrubs that blocked my view of the best way back to the air operations office. I wasn't quite lost, but it certainly was a lot more complicated than I thought.

Just when I begin to believe that I am getting a handle on the state of the wireless industry, I hit the ground hard and notice that the single blade of grass in front of my nose is really a giant Sequoia. Six weeks ago, I was smug in the knowledge that I knew, in a non-technical sense, most of what was going on in the wireless arena. Today, I suffer no such illusions.

Craig Smith, a friend from Toronto whom we met during our first year on the road, gets the kudos this week for introducing to me this week's Blade of Grass: The Blackberry, a wireless PCS device that is produced by Research in Motion, Ltd. RIM produces a variety of high-performance RF-modems for the narrow band PCS markets. This Blackberry features a 386 microprocessor with a 2-watt transmitter housed in an attractive case that seems to be an excellent choice for sending and receiving e-mail on the road. For more information, check out www.blackberry.net and www.rim.net.

One of Rim's partners is Itronix Corporation, www.itronix.com, which produces among other things a hardened laptop designed for mobile professionals, (like Dashboarders) called the X-C 6250. Itronix developed and deployed a field service application in the late 1990s when they used a combination of the Norcomm1 satellite and ARDIS radio networks to deliver 2-way data and messaging services to 12,000 Sears service technicians through their laptop computers. For the latest information about current mobile solution, check out their "Go-Book" program.

Other news from the CTIA conference in New Orleans as reported by Wireless Now, suggests that an interoperability agreement between the two major wireless consortiums, (representing just about every major telco) utilizing the protocols of GSM, (North American Global System Mobile), TDMA, (Time Division Multiple Access) and AMPS, (Advanced Mobile Phone Service using circuit switched cellular) has been hammered out. Such an agreement signals the possibility of a day when a single wireless "telephone" could access the best available network in a given area and just maybe allow a Dashboarder to actually be "at work, at home and on the road, all at the same grand moment."

There are hints in the press that Nortel-France has achieved limited success with a third-generation W-CDMA 36 protocol that may allow high-speed web browsing in a wireless environment at speeds in excess of 360 Kbps. Such news fires the imagination of this Dashboarder who is still looking for that magical connection. Every week as I sit down to prepare these ramblings, I face the paradox that I know less about what is really going on than I did the week before. But such a realization certainly provides lots of room for more blades of grass. Keep ‘em coming! ...And thanks!

Mark Sedenquist
Pasadena, California
February 15, 1999

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