The Telecommunications Revolution

Faxes, e-mail and text messages in the palm of your hand

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Not long ago, pagers and cellular phones were the crowning achievement In wireless communications. Although bulky, both devices allowed us to be in touch like never before. But now, pagers and cellular phones are as common as the cold, and can do much more than just beep and ring. Voice messages, text messages and even e-mail can now be sent via the airwaves. Indeed, a wireless revolution is under way as businesspeople, individuals and families make the most of a slew of new services made possible by telecommunications advancements.

Wireless communication is achieved by using radio transmitters installed in cell sites to send analog and digital signals to and from your pager or cellular phone.

In 1994, the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the nation’s airwaves, auctioned off additional spectrum channels for a range of new, digital wireless services, touching off a wave of companies offering enhanced wireless services and products. The recently introduced personal communications services (PCS) allow transmission of digital signals rather than the traditional analog signal. PCS allow a host of new data to be transmitted to cellular phones and other communications devices, including e-mail and text messages.

Omnipoint Communications Services Inc. in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey, has entered the PCS market with a number of data services, including a PCS telephone that also offers Internet access, e-mail, paging and enhanced telephone services such as caller ID. The Omnipoint handset can also be plugged into a laptop computer to transmit documents.

“What we have tried to do is to give people a lot of different options on what they can do and how they can use the service,” says Omnipoint spokesman John Grotland, noting that PCS offer much higher voice quality than traditional cellular phone systems. The basic service offered by Omnipoint is $19.95 per month, although the handset is purchased separately. However, PCS service is currently available only in limited geographic areas.

As in the early days of cellular telephones when coverage areas were largely limited to urban population centers, coverage for PCS data services, such as faxing and wireless Internet, also will be limited at first.

“If you look at a map of the United States showing regular voice cellular coverage, there’s not a town or interstate you can go to and not be able to use your phone,” says Jack Brantley, vice president of InterServ Information Service Group in Atlanta, which operates COMWATCH, a unit that tracks business and consumer telecommunications trends. “But if you look at wireless data, it is very spotty.”
But PCS telephones aren’t the only new option for wireless telecommunications. Some devices are aiming to replace the PC as a means for receiving e-mail-at least when you’re on the go.

One of the benefits of wireless technologies is that they untether users from their computers as a means of retrieving information. In some cases, they preclude the need for a computer, says Ann Wood, sales coordinator for Wireless Services Corp. The Bellevue, Washington-based firm offers AirNote Wireless E-mail, which allows people to receive e- mail via a

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