The penetration of wireless networks and the development of markets with many new operators mean that provision of basic service with adequate coverage and capacity, or voice-only services, are limited in scope. The Internet has emerged as a mass-market communications medium, and creates opportunities for new value-added services. The potential for value-added services as a differentiator or revenue stream are limited only by the operators' willingness to initiate services' to gain market share.
The global wireless communications industry has seen tremendous growth during the last decade. Pagers, cellular phones and wireless data devices are now commonplace. The mobile phone market has grown to more than 60 million GSM subscribers globally, with more than 54 million subscribers in the US alone. In the early 1980s, when first generation analog systems were being deployed, this level of growth was unimaginable. The growth of second generation digital systems since the early 1990s has taken wireless a step further, incorporating paging, messaging and voice calling into one device. The penetration of wireless networks is now in the mainstream, with advanced markets such as Finland reaching 40% and the US at more than 20%. Each market has deregulated by encouraging competition and issuing new licenses. Some markets have up to five players focused on gaining new subscribers. With such competition, operators must provide more than just basic service with adequate coverage and capacity. They must exhibit the ability to differentiate using value-added services tailored to specific market segments. These extra value services are key buying criterion for heavy airtime users. Such differentiation means that the market has a need for a variety of products from all-in-one voice/data devices, such as the Nokia 9000i Communicator to simple laptop card-phones. These products can only have value, however, when niche applications appeal to customers or are offered as a package in the promotion for airtime usage. Applications Some industries have been using wireless data for many years. Field sales personnel support for customer on-site order placement, billing transactions and real-time order delivery schedules are a few examples. Users experience productivity gains when they combine data services with voice, enabling both real-time data transfer and problem resolution. Other examples of vertical niche market applications are health care, energy, real estate, insurance and transportation. When these industries couple valued-added data services with existing information and services content providers, they enhance productivity and processes for their organisations as well as their customers. These are directly correlated to customer satisfaction. An important aspect of these value-added wireless services is the reliability of the data connectivity. Connection into the corporate intranet must be secure. With the use of the Internet for providing information or passing confidential information to the corporate intranet, security is a big concern to corporate IS departments, who are responsible for ensuring the data information flow processes. There are also horizontal market applications such as providing email and basic file transfers for corporate users. The Internet has become a major force in data use for business information, personal information and entertainment. The awareness of the Internet has grown tremendously to the point where it is now a mass market communications medium. This has raised expectations from users about data connectivity. Wireless applications need to be value-based first and then revenue-generating to attract the heavy airtime users. The imagination and creativity of developers are the only limits to data applications. The potential wireless users mass appeal for a particular software developers package, will not be easy to assess until users have access to the software. This means that existing software packages should be easy to port onto a wireless network server, with minimal work in optimization. As particular software packages become more popular, then the time and resources in developing specific niche packages for new optimised applications will become available. Applications can reside either on the terminals or in the network on servers. End-to-end solutions and fast access through the network are the key issues for mass appeal and user satisfaction. Internet The World Wide Web (www) has grown even faster than wireless communications. The coupling of low-cost personal computers with simple graphical browsers has built a new industry. The Internet was initially defined for use by the academic research and development community. Within the Internet industry, it is hard to estimate the actual number of users. Estimates range from 30 million to 80 million global users by the end of 1997. The general estimate is about 50 million users at present. The growth of the user base is expected to be about 250 million by 2001 – a 100% growth rate per year. With so many users, the number of access hosts is expected to reach 100 million by 2001. The focus of Internet traffic at the moment is based on the wireline networks that have been growing to cope with the high intensity applications. As wireless systems mature and offer optimised data routing, some users will transfer to wireless networks. Generally, users will continue to have a wireline or LAN connection for heavy internet use and complement this for updating information on a regular mobile terminal or an enhanced communicator for more intense value-added services. For wireless operators to create a market with a significant number of data users applications and data access rates must be adequate and well planned. Currently, second generation digital networks are still optimised for voice rather than data usage, equating to a limitation in data throughput. Data access speeds for the air interface will soon allow throughput of 64 kb/s for the high-capacity data applications in either circuit-switched or general packet-switched modes. Looking forward, 300+kb/s rates are already planned for network upgrades. Third generation (3G) systems are expected to accommodate 1 44kb/s in long haul-routes and 2Mb/s for short-haul routes. 3G systems will start to be deployed during 2001. For example, in the GSM evolution roadmap, today's 9.6kb/s will soon be 144 kb/s with both circuit-switched and packet data networking possibilities. Network Connectivity The ability to provide end-to-end solutions depends on the value-added service application offered to users. Networks need to have various options to route calls without having a major impact on capacity. Simple bursty messages can use short message service for up to 160 alphanumeric characters. Short message service can also be used to implement more intelligent applications via a messaging platform. Circuit-switched data connections are also available with standard modem pools. These can be optimized for faster access and greater throughput using TCP/IP connectivity by implementing an access router and manager. It is also possible to implement more reliable, cost-saving communication links to corporate networks or the Internet Service Provider such as T1/E1, ISDN or frame relay. The savings realized through the use of cheaper communication links could translate into more flexible tariff rates for data services. There are various architectures to connect access routers directly to a multi-vendor Mobile Switching Center (MSC) environment. Direct data access is possible due to the MSC PRI ISDN capabilities. The ability to connect in a multi-vendor environment for direct TCP/IP access will help bring data usage to the wireless network. From an operator's view, initial costs for a large deployment could be prohibitive to have a fast data link. Using a centralised architecture is an economical method for initially offering value-added services across several MSCs. The issue of transmission costs to a central local compared to a distributed architecture is an individual operator decision based on local back haul rates. Internet access is an important part of any operator's value-added services, so there must be some type of internet gateway within the architecture. Messaging Platform Messaging service, commonly referred to as Short Message Service (SMS), is an important benefit to operators. Short messages are bi-directional text messages of up to 160 characters that can be sent to and from a mobile phone display in GSM. The Short Message Service Centre (SMSC) should be a scalable and feature-rich platform with open interfaces to facilitate cost-saving customer service operations. For example, an SMSC could include over-the-air programming of Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards or the re-issuing of credit to a prepaid SIM card user. These applications increase customer satisfaction because of the convenience they afford subscribers. Over-the-air activation (OTA) is one of the most popular uses for short message service centres in newly launched systems. A telephone call to customer care can initiate the service. A customer care agent can provide the subscriber with the various service options or remotely send SIM personality information via short message to activate the phone. The prepaid SIM card crediting option is another OTA SMSC application used by new operators. Omnitel Pronto, one of the largest GSM operators in the world, uses a Nokia SMSC to handle thousands of pre-paid SIM credits an hour. The Nokia SMSC has been seamlessly integrated to leading OTA platforms provided by Gemplus, Swisscom and others. Common SMS-based value-added services for mobile users are voice mail notifications, phone-to-phone messaging, paging and information services such as news headlines, weather, traffic and sports updates. A unique Nokia SMSC feature, called NetGate, allows an operator to use the Internet as the source of content for value-added service applications. The NetGate feature finds information located on the Internet or corporate intranets and makes it available to mobile users. The most common services could include personal schedule information, private telephone directories, flight schedules and travel services (taxi, hotel, and restaurant information). The new generation of mobile phones allow operators the power to tailor-make specific menus to facilitate use of the services and fast service creation allows introduction of 'seasonal services', such as vacation bookings or specific sport tournament services. Email services would also be possible. Short email messages can be sent directly to the display of a mobile phone. Or if a phone is connected to a laptop, an email header can be sent as a short message to notify the subscriber of a new entry to their email box. The subscriber can then choose to download the message to a laptop or wait until a more convenient time. Wireless Application Protocol The development of value-added services requires an open and standard technology. The Wireless Application Protocol(WAP) is a standardised protocol developed jointly by Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola and Unwired Planet. WAP will provide Internet-like services. WAP has been optimised for the wireless environment and the limited user interface of the handset. WAP will support micro-browsers that will give users friendly interfaces and enable smart messaging applications for simple services such as downloading ring tones. WAP will also contribute to the development of secure access for electronic commerce. It could also allow the user to access various types of content on the Internet and intranet in a much faster manner and bring application services to the handset. 'Surfing' the Internet is not practical on wireless networks due to the data rates involved and the limited displays on handsets. However, the value of WAP is in the ability for operators, Internet service providers and content providers to utilize the internet technology to quickly and efficiently create new services. Summary The development of markets with many new operators means that voice-only services are limited in scope. The differentiation of data for providing value-added services can help attract the high airtime users, who are key targets in a profitable business plan. Conclusion The use of the WAP or newer improvements in data across the air interface will also help in providing easier access to data files. The messaging platform opens many new opportunities of access to information and follow-me type information services. All of these technology enablers will only be successful as long as the software developers provide attractive and user-friendly applications. The potential for value-added services as a differentiator or revenue stream are limited by the operator’s willingness to initiate services to gain market share, and thus more subscribers for more airtime usage.