Boston Broadside
January/February 2001
Vol. 58, No.3

Inside . . .

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President's Message

Director-Sponsor's Column

Technical Writring at SolidWorks is a Collaborative Effort

Competitions 2000 Awards Banquet: the STACIEs

The Edward J. Carbrey, Jr., Scholarship 2001 Application Instructions

September Program Report

September Membership Report

October Membership Report

Communicator's Toolchest Book Review: A Review of the XSL Companion

Boston Broadside Sponsors

Society for Technical Communication, Inc

STC-Boston chapter home page

Broadside Back Issues

September Program Report:
Look Ma No Wires

by Ami Wright

The overall development of the wireless Web will mimic the development of the Web: obscure to cutting edge to ubiquitous at lightning speed.

This was the view of who presented an overview of the wireless Web at the September STC program. He pointed out that today the wireless Web in the US consists primarily of stripped down Web pages that give simple information - such as sports scores, stock quotes, or weather reports. While it is possible to view any Web page, you have to type the URL using a tiny keypad and view the page on a tiny screen. In the case of a cell phone, that means viewing 60 characters at a time with no graphics. Further, if the links on that Web page are in a graphic, you can't click on any links.

Because of such limitations, you have to know what you want beforehand. It is extremely difficult to browse, searching for catalog or other detailed information. This makes Web access from a cell phone a medium for buying, but not a medium for selling.

Voice enabled access may emerge as one solution to the problem of tiny screens and keyboards. Other robust capabilities are already available in Europe and Japan. In Japan, you can connect a digital camera to a cell phone and send the pictures to another cell phone.

Capabilities and Applications

Some types of applications beginning to appear in the US include:

  • real-time restocking for retail stores. As soon as a product is sold, the warehouse is notified. This allows stores to quickly restock fast-selling items.
  • wireless brokering of long-haul trucking assignments. A brokering system among owner/operators of tractor-trailers makes the process of finding the next load more efficient.

Another application, which may be available soon for phones equipped with GPS receivers, is selectively sending ads to cell phones based on location. For example, if you were near a Starbucks, the phone would ring with a discount offer from Starbucks.

Some other current issues related to wireless access:

  • current content is mostly fluff
  • access speeds are very slow
  • access is not universally available
  • costs are currently billed at cell phone rates, rather than ISP flat-rates
  • lack of a single standard in the US.

Communication Standards for the Wireless Web

There are several different telephony standards in use in the US:

  • CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) from Qualcomm is used by Sprint PCS, Verizon, and others.
  • GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) from Nokia is used by Pacific Bell and Omnipoint. This is the major standard in Europe. The fact that Europe has a single standard is one of the reasons that wireless access is more advanced in Europe.
  • TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) from AT&T is used by AT&T Wireless and Southwestern Bell.
  • iMode from NTT DoCoMo is the major standard in Japan and is slowly entering the US.

Currently, none of these is dominant in the US. TDMA will probably lose out, primarily because it 's the slowest standard and has no proposed speed enhancement. The other standards are faster and have proposed speed enhancements to make them even faster.

The wireless Web standard is WAP (Wireless Application Protocol). It allows wireless Web interoperability. Conceptually, it is like TCP/IP, the protocols that underlie the Web. The two main markup languages are HDML (Handheld Device Markup Language) and WML (Wireless Markup Language).

Looking Ahead and Looking Around

Neil predicted that growth of the wireless Web may affect the field of technical communication in increased:

  • need for dynamic content management
  • need for single sourcing for multiple formats and for multiple platforms
  • visibility of documentation departments.

Finally, Neil suggested several sources of additional information.

For Wireless Standards and Languages:

  • WAP forum - (This is a good site.)
  • W3C (and HDML) -
  • DoCoMo -
  • GSM Alliance -
  • CDMA Development Group -
  • WML -

For mCommerce/lCommerce and General:

  • GeePS -
  • SkyGo -
  • Jupiter Communications -
  • Field Force Automation (magazine) -
  • Igo (catalog) -
  • Symbian Consortium and EPOC -

Ami Wright is a freelance technical writer who is particularly interested in working with software companies with development offices outside the US.

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January 8, 2001