Years ago, at a COMDEX trade show, I saw an early form of wireless Ethernet. The person who demonstrated it extolled its high speed, and when I asked if it would work with a Windows CE-based device (Pocket PCs didn't exist yet), he said his company was working on a Windows CE version. The problem was, of course, that few wireless LANs (WLANSs) existed then. At the time, I was testing an early wireless WAN card for email. I asked the demonstrator whether his company had thought about providing a card that contained both WLAN and wireless WAN capabilities. Such a card would let customers use the wireless Ethernet on campus and switch to the low-bit-rate wireless WAN while they were away from the office.
I've never written about that idea, so it's probably too late to claim paternity, but I'm happy to see someone following up on it. Last week, the German company EURESCOM demonstrated exactly this kind of seamless wireless connectivity—on a Pocket PC 2002 device. EURESCOM's demonstration involved Bluetooth; Wi-Fi, the 802.11b wireless standard; and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). The device automatically selected the best available connection as it moved from place to place. EURESCOM claims this technology will also let users delay downloading binary file attachments until the users move within range of a high-bit-rate wireless connection.
In the United States, this kind of automatic-switching technology might also be the solution for our lack of a single nationwide wireless WAN standard. To get coast-to-coast connectivity today, you must carry separate modems for operation on Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD), Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM), and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) networks, manually plugging and unplugging them as necessary. Throw in a Wi-Fi WLAN card, and you have a briefcase full of connectivity tools that you can use only one at a time.
If EURESCOM's technology can automatically switch between networks as diverse as Bluetooth, WiFi, and GPRS, it should also be able to switch between CDPD and CDMA. You'd still need the underlying digital modem and transceiver, of course, but the software could prompt you to change cards when necessary. Ultimately, a multimode wireless card could work on whichever wireless network is available. Of course, that possibility leads to some fascinating questions about billing.
Eurescom expects to make the technology available for corporate users by the end of this year and to individuals by the end of 2003. I, for one, will be watching with interest!
On a different note, I'm working on a Windows & .NET Magazine article that will cover ActiveSync troubleshooting. If you or your users have experienced problems with ActiveSync (or with Palm's HotSync), please email the details (as much as you can remember) to email@example.com. I'll try to find the answers—or at least explanations.