Technology focus

Know your broadband from your Bluetooth? Our technology special will ensure the communications revolution doesn’t pass you by


ADSL


What is it? An Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line offers an “always on”, high-speed connection to the Internet. It’s often referred to as a broadband service because it carries more information than a standard modem connection. In short, it turns the twisted copper wires between your local telephone exchange and your telephone socket into a digital line. Data is therefore moved more quickly between your PC and the exchange. Eventually, ADSL will be available at speeds of up to 2 megabits per second, which is about 40 times faster than current modems. The reality at the moment is that it will work at roughly 10 times faster than an average modem. As you’re not dialling up to a service – ADSL is a permanent link to the Net – you pay a fixed rental fee rather than call charges.


WAP


What is it? Wireless Application Protocol enables mobile devices to access the Internet or other information services. Because of screen size and other limitations, WAP mobile phone users can’t see or hear full-blown web sites but can access information-led sites where text and limited graphics are enough to get the message across. The WAP protocol is developed by the WAP Forum, an organisation made up of some of the most powerful Internet and telecom companies.

What does it mean to me? Although WAP has been accused of promising more than it delivers, WAP phones will become essential for staff on the move – it can be used to check train times and share prices, track parcels and receive news updates.

Should I buy one now? Yes, WAP phones are now available everywhere. However, you’ll also hear mention of third generation (3G) phones which use the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS). These phones will combine Internet and video technology, as well as offering increased bandwidth which means that information can be sent to your phone about 40 times quicker than it is now. Through global positioning technology, it will also be able to inform your phone network where you are and as a result offer more localised services. The multimedia theory of 3G phones means that videoconferencing on your phone will also be a reality. The licences for the phones were awarded this year but real products using the technology are still some way off so if you think the services offered via WAP could be useful, buy a WAP phone now.

How much do they cost? Cost vary and, as with any mobile phones, it depends on the tariff or contract chosen. If your company doesn’t have a corporate supplier, the network provider web sites (such as www.btcellnet.co.uk, www.one2one.co.uk, www.orange.co.uk, www.virgin mobile.com, www.vodafone.net) are good places to start.


PDA


What is it? Personal Digital Assistant is the term used to describe palmtop computers such as the Palm or the Psion Revo. Typically, they allow you to run a diary, build a contacts database, send and receive e-mail and text messages and surf the Internet. Some come with keyboards, such as the Psions, while others, namely the Palms, have in-built handwriting recognition technology so you can write on them. We’ve included them here because increasingly they are being integrated with communications technology – the forthcoming Palm Vx can be turned into a phone and the Handspring Visor Cue is also a wireless data transmitter which can be used to send text messages.

What do they mean to me? Think of them as an electronic Filofax – with a lot of added extras. If used properly, they should certainly streamline and tidy up your life. As long as you don’t lose them – most will let you link to a desktop device as back-up – they are invaluable.

Which one should I buy? The Palms and Psions have traditionally battled it out in the marketplace. But earlier this year the Visor arrived, which is similar to a Palm and which comes with a Springboard port allowing you to add peripherals. It comes down to personal choice, but the forthcoming Palm Vx, which has an attachment available that also turns it into a dual-band GSM phone, is likely to become a must-have product for gadget-mad executives. If you’d rather a keyboard-based machine, opt for one of the Psions.

How much do they cost? The Palm Vx is about £300 and offerings from Compaq, Casio and HP are nearer £400. You can pick up older models such as the still-useful Palm IIIs for bargain prices these days.


Bluetooth


What is it? A short-range wireless technology that allows devices such as PCs and mobile phones to talk to each other within a 10-metre radius without human intervention. In theory, your mobile phone could send a command to your PC and at the same time tell the office coffee pot to brew up. It sounds like a scene from a futuristic movie but could start to become a reality within 12 months. It was developed by a “special interest group” comprising industry giants such as Intel, Toshiba, IBM, 3Com, Motorola, Ericsson, Nokia and Microsoft. In case you’re wondering, it was named after the Danish king Harald I Bluetooth who reigned from 940-985 AD.

What will it mean to me? In theory, Bluetooth will be the underpinning technology that makes the ultimate office of the future possible – but, as with many hyped technologies, don’t hold your breath. Also, as clever as it is, a 10-metre radius isn’t that wide an area.

When will it be available? More than 1,900 developers are working on Bluetooth products and it is predicted that 100 million Bluetooth-enabled devices such as mobile phones and palmtop computers will be ready to ship by next year. Not surprisingly, Ericsson and Nokia intend to turn their phones into the ultimate remote control for all your devices and Toshiba and Sony even want to put the technology into domestic appliances such as toasters and microwave ovens.


To find out more


www.wap.com

www.wapforum.org

www.wap.co.uk

www.btopenworld

www.palm.com

www.handspring.com

www.psion.com

www.bluetoothcongress.com

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