San Diego Business Journal

The telecommunications industry seems to be zooming into the future at an ever-increasing pace.

Wireless phones, wireless Internet, 3G, PDA's with wireless modems, and a whole slew of acronyms that mean something to engineers.

What matters most to businesses that must plan and purchase for both current needs and an unknown future is an idea of what's real and what's hype.

In the wireless telecom world, the term "digital" gets tossed around as if it defined the technology. In fact there are many digital wireless technologies , a handful for phones, some for voice only, some for both voice and data, and a few more for data-only devices.

For a business, making a decision on which wireless phone carrier to select should include more than just "How much will it cost?" At the very least any decision should consider the basics of current features and coverage.

It should also include a discussion of the carrier's technology and an explanation of how that will impact business today. Better still, it should include some insight into the carrier's future plans and how business can capitalize on new technologies to improve its ability to compete in the marketplace.

To avoid surprises, ask.

o Ask Questions

Ask about the basics , pricing, plans and coverage. Just as in sports, players can't always win with just the basics, but they can lose without them.

Can phones roam and place calls from anywhere in the country, and can they be restricted if needed? This is a big country. Most phones available today work fine in major metropolitan areas. However, some still won't work in rural areas.

Meanwhile, other phones may work in rural areas, but don't include those calling areas in their pricing plans. Business users need to think about where they travel and where their customers are located. And what constitutes "normal" use.

Ask about the phone's features. Can voice mail be accessed from any phone or just from a designated mobile phone?

Ask about the other features and capabilities the carrier can provide that will help employees to be more productive. Many businesses use e-mail to communicate both internally and with customers.

Some have Web pages that can be used to check pricing, availability and almost anything else.

o Third Generation

Chances are mobile Internet access would improve the productivity of your sales force and enhance your customer relationships.

The wireless community is already looking ahead at the next generation of technology. It has been dubbed 3G , for third generation. There are still some questions as to what exactly 3G will look like , but all of the answers can be found in a technology called CDMA, or Code Division Multiple Access.

CDMA is the newest and most versatile of the digital wireless technologies, offering voice, high-speed data, Internet, video and sound all on the same network, all with the same coverage. CDMA phones can access the Internet, send and receive messages and e-mail, and act as wireless modems for laptops or PDAs. And it will cover more of the U.S. than any other digital wireless technology.

Currently there are two competing versions of CDMA , CDMA2000 and WCDMA , both of which offer a migration path from today's second-generation digital networks to tomorrow's 3G networks. To get there, both will require network upgrades, additional spectrum and new equipment.

CDMA is the convergence of technologies. It is voice and data. It takes advantage of the advances in networking and computers in addition to the growth in wireless communication. It is the future of wireless communication, not only in this country, but also in the rest of the world.

Technology can play an important role in business, and so does a carrier's ability to build and run their network. As businesses plan for their future, they need to pose the questions in this article to their carriers. The answers may help companies position themselves for tomorrow's opportunities.

Hallenbeck is technology solutions manager for Verizon Wireless.