Communications for People on the Move: A Look into the
Statement of the Issue
When Americans think of wireless communications systems, they often think only of cellular phones because of the explosive growth of this particular technology in many parts of the world. While that form of wireless communication is only one of manypaging, television broadcasting, police two-way radios, and many others come to minda closer look at wireless, and especially cellular technology and systems, is instructive regarding the growth overall of wireless communications, not just in the United States but around the world.
While seemingly ubiquitous in some business settings, the use of cellular phone and data communications systems is only in its infancy. Despite its dramatic growth, penetration rates for cellular technology-based systems in the United States are still running at less than 10 percent of American households. Compare this to penetration rates for another key component of the global information infrastructure, computersPCswhich are estimated to be in 30 percent of American households. For many reasons the growth of cellular technology-based systems will likely continue to increase dramatically. This paper seeks to highlight the reasons for growth of wireless systems generally and cellular systems specifically. All of these changes represent a significant part of the evolving national information infrastructure (NII).
There is no shortage of open issues in the NII debate. The categories of security and privacy, interoperability, spectrum availability, information access, ease of use, portability, ubiquity, network availability and manageability, applications development, multimedia, and network components provide just a partial list of the open NII issues. For our purposes here, the focus is on just two of these: portability and ubiquity. This focus is deliberate. Without satisfying these two requirements, the convenience, services, and applications that are visualized cannot be delivered, and the NII, rather than being a bold step forward, will in fact be a step backward.
After some 100 years of technological progress in communications, we live today in a world where voice communications are virtually ubiquitous. That means that today almost anyone can calli.e., have a voice conversationwith almost anyone else anywhere at anytime. To do this with cellular and cordless technologies, the phones are locally or regionally wireless, and the wireless network that supports them is implemented by a parallel wired network that is highly complementary. There are some limitations in terms of access, costs, and competition, but recent private- and public-sector activities to implement personal communication services (PCS)an extension of cellular technologywill go a very long way toward improving these limitations. Thus, holding private voice conversations will completely meet the anytime, anywhere standard of service.
In contrast to voice communications are visual or video-based services, which in many cases are still comparatively expensive and tightly controlled. Whereas anyone can make a phone call, only those designated can broadcast a television show or movie. Further, access to information and the role of computing in communications among people have been slower to develop. Only recently, with the advent of easy to use online services, are computers in the home, at schools, and in the workplace being used to supplement the papers, books, and access to learning services that remain pretty much as they were at the turn of the centuryin newsstands,
libraries, and schools. Radical changes in how people access data through computers are projected fairly confidently, at least in the developing countries.
The development of the technologies and networks that is best described by the NII is dramatically changing all of this, and by doing so is empowering all citizens with the conveniences and opportunities that will result from making all of the services personally accessible. With an NII, the world of "voice and imagery" are merging, along with more ready transfer of data, to meet the anytime, anywhere standard of service. Individuals will have full access not just to voice services as they do today, but also to image-based services and information services that are now only being imagined. This NII will have full mobility and connectivity that will be made possible by completing second-generation systems and bringing on the third-generation wireless systems that will become part of the NII.
Before getting into what this represents in terms of new functionalityefficiencies and servicesit is appropriate to discuss why this vision could be at riskthat is, what could easily happen if vision and action don't match with the opportunity for portability that wireless technologies offer to the NII concept.
The promise of the NII lies in three synergistic forcesthe availability of bandwidth brought on by developments in fiber and signaling, the availability of computing brought on by the microprocessor and the march of the semiconductor industry, and the emergence of competition and choice brought on by new telecom policies worldwide. The wireless component of these forces of technology is critical, especially next generation paging, cellular PCS, and dedicated systems used by public safety and critical industries.
Until recently, everything you could receive on your home wall-attached television, you could receive on your portable television, whether you chose to use it in another room, or on a campout or while at a sporting event. That started to change with cable when the delivered wired bandwidth for television services was effectively increased by two orders of magnitude beyond that available in the radio frequency allocations for television. A similar shift occurred in computing over roughly the same time period. Early on, what you could do with a portable computer, or what we then called a portable computer, was pretty much what you could do with your office or home computer. That changed when local area networks (LANs) and computer networks came into being. With that transition, the portable computer became a comparative weakling to its LAN-based equivalent. These changes initially went unnoticedafter all, at least the new portable computer was portable, if a little out of touch, and who really needed 100 channels of television in any event?
Let us hold this perspective and move forward in time as the NII begins to deliver on its promise. People can talk face to face, and so groups can interact and decisions are made more quickly; families are united though they live miles apart; high-speed computing and information access are available in the home and office, and as a result people are more productive and better informed. Telecommuting becomes a reality, lowering energy consumption. But whereas in today's world most of the communications services that are available to a worker at a desk are available to a worker on the move, that is no longer necessarily true in the futureunless, that is, broadband wireless services are brought into line with broadband wired services.
This scenario prompts two questions: does it matter what is lost and what is gained, and, if it does, can it be done with the technology that is available and the other constraints that are likely to apply? The answer to both questions is yes.
Analysis and Forecast
Let us start with the first question, Does it matter? Broadly, we have already seen the high value people put on mobility. That value has generated vast new high-growth industries that not only have made the U.S. citizenry safer and more personally in touch, but also have made U.S. industry more efficient while driving substantial new export markets as well. But it is what happens in specific circumstances and industries that is perhaps more important. In other words, the applications must be carefully examined.
Many of the most interesting applications of wireless technology require the availability and dependability of private land-mobile communicationsthat is, the system dedicated to provide best-fit solutions to the communications needs and critical industries and protection of the public. These systems are a primary factor that has allowed the United States to establish and maintain its position as the world's leading producer of goods
and services. Private land-mobile radio is used by all segments of the industrial, business, public safety, public service, and land transportation mobile work force. Private land-mobile systems have become an indispensable part of the operation of this work force. The continued growth of this nation's commercial and public service activities demands additional communication capabilities. It is imperative that the industrial and public safety sectors have access to new imaging and decision processing/remote file access technologies. Even with the availability of some personal communication services offered by private and common carriers, public safety, public service, and industrial users will continue to satisfy their specialized communication requirements through private systems.
The private land mobile radio user community is a necessary ingredient in maintaining global competitiveness. Motivated by the constant need of the private sector to improve productivity and services, private users will invariably migrate to the specific communications solutions that provide the greatest advantage to their operations. An additional allocation of radio spectrum is essential if these users and their industries are to continue to flourish in increasingly competitive global markets.
Unique Communication Services Required
Some of the unique services anticipated as being required to serve the critical day-to-day operational needs of critical industries and of public safety and public service organizations include the following.
Energy Conservation and Management
Health Care and Fire/Emergency Management Systems
Improving Industrial Productivity
Many of these applications can be satisfied through the application of wireless technologies developed initially for the cellular market. There will also be a variety of special "niche" requirements that, by virtue of their highly specialized environment and exacting reliability requirements, will tend to be incompatible with consumer-oriented, carrier-provided PCS services that are evolving from the cellular technologies.
For example, a variety of advanced technology services will be required to ensure the safety and effective functioning of both underground and elevated transit and rapid rail transportation systems. In addition, there will be very specialized requirements for other critical industrial and public safety operations conducted in underground environments. Further, there will be a requirement for special broadband video and data systems designed to provide highly reliable communications networks in inherently dangerous settings. Private user emerging technology systems will fulfill a critical role in ensuring the safe and efficient functioning of maintenance crews and fuel and other service personnel working on highly congested flight lines.
Allocation of Spectrum
Cellular and PCS spectrum allocations over the past several years have been critical to the introduction of some of these technologies. However, the expected rapid growth of wireless systems, based on user demand, requires that government policymakers assure a continued reallocation of spectrum to these needs. The recent spectrum allocation for PCS will not satisfy the need for spectrum for private emerging technologies. The regulatory scheme adopted for PCS makes it impractical, if not impossible, for private users to obtain and use their own PCS licenses for the new telecommunications technologies they need. Moreover, PCS carrier-licensees are inherently unlikely to offer the specialized solutions needed by public safety and critical industries.
Another factor that requires full analysis is the mobility of these new systems that are so critical to the evolution of the NII. While the overall agenda is for full mobility for the NII, its implementation fortunately
divides into two phases. The first requires immediate attention, and the second requires specific actions toward the turn of the century. The details are as follows.
Phase I for NII Mobility
Phase II for NII Mobility
Analog cellular, paging, and private systems provided the first generation. Digital systems that "remined" the existing spectrum, PCS, and the first phase of the NII mobility initiatives make up the second generation. Phase II for NII mobility makes up the third generation. Third-generation systems for private or public use and for data, paging, image, or voice provide similar functionality with flexible broadband capability, increased capacity, satellite system interconnectivity, and global roaming. These systems allow voice, but they also provide video. They support data, but they also support data at LAN rates. They deliver the full capability of NII to the mobile worker and the mobile person. Clearly, substantial spectrum will be necessary to support competing public systems, wireless cable access, and needed private systems with this capability. Efforts are just beginning to access how much spectrum may be needed and where that spectrum will be found in each of the world's regions and countries.
Growth of Wireless Systems
Finally, let us focus on the key issue of the growth of wireless systems based on cellular technologies. As a percent of the world population, users of cellular technologies account for less than 1 percent. While growth rates for cellular systems have been running at 40 to 50 percent per year, that growth may well increase or at least continue for many years because of the large market opportunities that remain. By the end of this year alone, there will be over 70 million users of cellular technology worldwide.
Currently, the overall voice and telephony usage of telephony services is estimated at somewhat more than 4 trillion minutes, both wired and wireless. That will grow to nearly 8 trillion minutes by the year 2003. Correspondingly, the wireless component is now about 70 billion minutes at present, but that is expected to grow to 2 trillion minutes in 2003. So while it now amounts to a little over 1 percent of the total, predictions are that it will increase to 25 percent of the total. While that represents a tremendous opportunity, it is also a tremendous cause for concern if, as noted in the introduction of this paper, vision and action do not match this demand for spectrum and technology.
The Role of Government
The analysis presented above leads to the question, How can government help? First and foremost, government needs to accept what history has taught, that is, that mobility is essential. Wireless solutions need to be an explicit part of the NII agenda. An initial 165 MHz of spectrum if we leave in ITS, and 145 MHz if not, needs to be allocated for industrial and public safety services, IVHS and satellite services. Substantial additional spectrum will be required beyond that for third-generation systems. In fact the government itself has projected a need for approximately 250 MHz over the next 10 years for wireless terrestrial and satellite services. Government assistance needs to be focused on making spectrum available. "Re-mining" of existing broadcast television and broadcast auxiliary spectrum should be considered in light of the capability of Phase II systems to deliver both broadband data and video. Clearing the spectrum is not just a regulatory challenge. Solutions need to be developed to migrate existing services to either wireline or new spectrum.
The United States has led the world with its communications and computing visions in the past, and with mobility as part of the NII agenda it will do so again well into the next century.
The Role of Standards
The network architecture of the NII must support its goal to facilitate true national mobility and connectivity. Open standards and interfaces should be adopted to assure a competitive supply of equipment to the operators and users of the NII. A level playing field and fair competition between independent device manufacturers will ensure affordable pricing and continued technological development. Naturally, the standards should address the need for privacy while allowing room for the innovative use of technology to provide access and security.
In conclusion, the NII features of portability and ubiquity are key to its success. But these aspects of the NII can be realized only if U.S. government regulators free up appropriate spectrum resources so that the private sector can develop these new markets.