What Is Smart Phones?

When is a phone not a phone, but a smart phone? And when is a PDA a phone and a phone a PDA?

Strange as it seems, these questions are increasingly more difficult to answer these days. Here’s how we define it: A phone is a smart phone when it contains an operating system that lets the phone engage in data-rich services.

By data-rich services we mean things like Internet access, game play, and so on. It isn’t necessary for a smart phone to run on an established PDA (personal data assistant) platform like the Symbian, Palm, or Windows CE, but when a phone does have that capability, it is undoubtedly a smart phone.

That’s the easy part. A PDA is a PDA and not a phone when it has to have phone service added to it, and when the size and form factor isn’t what’s normally associated with a phone.

For example, if you need to insert a phone modem add-on into the open slot on a WinCE PDA that’s the size of a small brick, then that PDA is still a PDA. If the phone is built into the PDA, then it’s a smart phone. Thus, we would argue that the author’s (BAS) Kyocera 7135, a 3G phone with a Palm PDA, is a smart phone.

But that the brick shape of the Treo 600 or the HP iPAQ h6315 PocketPC Phone Edition argue against their inclusion. Truthfully, this distinction is getting harder and harder to make, and if you’re a PDA devotee you probably won’t agree with this line of reasoning.

Internet Access and WAP

The problem with browsing the Web on a small phone is that there’s very little real estate to work with. Graphical browsers convey a lot of information, including navigation, pictures, and other graphics, text, buttons, and so forth.

Couple this with the fact that there are no standard screen sizes on phones and you have the recipe for a whole host of problems. You don’t want to return to the world of text-only browsers, although some phones do, so you need an intermediate solution that lets you get the most out of the screen real estate that your device has.

That’s where the Wireless Application Protocol, or WAP, comes in. With WAP and the Wireless Markup Language (WML), pages can be composed that will work on a WAP-enabled browser or microbrowser. All of the browsers that you find on wireless phones—Blazer, or Opera, or some other browser—are WAP browsers.

The purpose of a WAP browser is to make as little demand for memory and processing on a device as possible. Therefore, WAP uses a reduced instruction set, and can be programmed with a reduced version of Java called WMLScript.

Programs for a WAP browser are written with instructions that conform to the Wireless Telephony Application Interface (WTAI). What WAP does is similar to what an HTTP service does with HTML—it takes pages composed in WML and renders them according to the instructions it gets from a browser.

WML is a version of XML 1.0. WAP uses a very strict language specification and has its own language. In WAP parlance, pages are called DECKS, and each deck is constructed from parts called CARDS.

The WAP protocol is managed by an industry group called the WAP Forum, formed in 1997 by Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, and Unwired Planet. Today the group has membership from over 90 percent of the cell phone vendors. You’ll find WAP running on all of the major cellular phone operating systems, and it is fully compatible with 3G networks.

3G Networks

Anyone who has ever popped a microbrowser on their cell phone can attest to how slow communications are over a phone line, even with the current data links in use, which are second-generation phone lines (digital networks).

Voice communication just simply doesn’t need that much bandwidth or throughput to be acceptable. However, a new type of network, dubbed “3G networks” or “thirdgeneration networks,” may change this situation and dramatically alter what you can do with your phone.

Plans to migrate the current 2G standards worldwide to 3G are underway. In Europe, Asia, and Africa, 2G GPS networks will be migrated to 3G GPS, whereas in the United States the current 2G CDMA standard will migrate to a 3G CDMA standard.

The current definition of a 3G network by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is only that it meets a transmission speed of 144 Kbps, which unfortunately bodes ill for anyone who wants all the current wireless standards to merge into a single worldwide standard where you can go roam globally with the same phone.

3G networks offer much greater speeds, raising the current rate of around 10 Kbps to around 2 Mbps when the mobile phone is stationary. 3G phones operate over a frequency of 5 MHz. For mobile phones that are on the move, the connect speed drops to a maximum of 384 Kbps.

A 3G connection is a shared connection, so in fact you won’t normally achieve these maximum-rated speeds. If a large number of users are connected, your speed may drop down to 56K, that of a fast modem.

Even at that speed, considering the smaller screens that have to be populated on phone browsers, Internet access will become much more palatable. Here are some of the things that a 3G network will let a 3G phone do that is difficult, if not impossible, for the current generation of data phones:

  • Video calling, where you see each other’s image over the phone as captured by a camera in the phone.
  • Surf the Internet as if you were at your desktop.
  • Send and receive e-mail messages with large attachments.
  • Stream audio and video, and thus listen to your favorite radio or TV program in real time.
  • Engage in videoconferencing.
  • Download MP3 audio.
  • Play an online game on your phone.
  • Couple a GPS function with a mapping database to download high-resolution maps and directions to your 3G phone.
  • Get electronic alerts and reminders from a network service.

Essentially you have turned your phone into a broadband connected desktop computer. If you have bought theater tickets on your desktop computer, or logged onto your bank account to pay bills, or searched a reservation service to get a hotel or flight, then your phone will be able to do that too on a 3G network.

It’s a $50 billion gamble by the telecommunications industry, but one with a good chance of success. The Financial Times of London has a special report on 3G that you might want to look.

The first 3G network to launch in the United States was Verizon Wireless’s Evolution-Data Optimized (EV-DO) Las Vegas network in January 2004, with roll out by August to Washington DC and San Diego, CA.

Verizon Wireless’s network is rated at up to 500 Kbps maximum throughput for connected users and costs users an additional $30 per month in fees. Other companies are also bringing 3G networks online in 2004, including both Sprint and AT&T.

To use a 3G network you need to either put a 3G-capable wireless card in your laptop or buy a 3G network–capable phone. Although a 2G phone can use a 3G network, it will be unable to achieve the desired throughput rates that this technology promises. Those cards give you data access, but not voice access on your laptop.

A 3G-capable phone may list that support on a label in the back of the phone. If you see something like Qualcomm 3G CDMA, then it may be compatible with 3G networks, but not necessarily.

Sprint, for example, isn’t compatible with the Sanyo SCP-4700, which is supposed to be 3G-capable, but the Sanyo 5150, Sprint TP5250, and Kyocera 2235 or 2255 are compatible.

The upshot of all of this is that if you intend to use a particular company’s 3G network, you need to check the compatibility of your intended phone before purchasing the service.