Glossary: How to Speak Wireless

By Compiled by Lee Pender and Danielle Dunne
Thu, March 15, 2001

CIO — THE WORLD OF WIRELESS applications and technologies, and its alphabet soup of acronyms, can be a confusing place. The bets your company makes on wireless technology will likely depend on where you work; they could also depend on how many different technologies your customers require you to support. Here they are.

3G (third generation) An industry term used to describe the next, still-to-come generation of wireless applications. It represents a move from circuit-switched communications (where a device user has to dial in to a network) to broadband, high-speed, packet-based wireless networks (which are always "on"). The first generation of wireless communications relied on analog technology (see Analog), followed by digital wireless communications. The third generation expands the digital premise by bringing high-speed connections and increasing reliability.

802.11 A family of wireless specifications developed by a working group of The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. These specifications are used to manage packet traffic over a network and ensure that packets do not collide--which could result in loss of data--while traveling from their point of origin to their destination (that is, from device to device).

AMPS (advanced mobile phone service) A term used for analog technologies, the first generation of wireless technologies.

Analog Radio signals that are converted into a format that allows them to carry data. While cellular phones and other wireless devices still use analog in geographic areas where there is little or no coverage by digital networks, analog will eventually give way to faster digital networks, analysts say.

Bandwidth The size of a network "pipe" or channel for communications in wired networks. In wireless, it refers to the range of available frequencies that can carry a signal.

BlackBerry Two-way wireless device, made by Waterloo, Ontario-based Research in Motion, that allows users to check e-mail and voice mail (translated into text), as well as page other users via a wireless network service. Also known as a RIM device, it has a miniature qwerty keyboard for users to type their messages. It uses the SMS protocol (see SMS). BlackBerry users must subscribe to a wireless service that allows for data transmission.

Bluetooth A short-range wireless specification that allows for radio connections between devices within a

30-foot range of each other. The name comes from 10th-century Danish King Harald BlŒtand (Bluetooth), who unified Denmark and Norway.

CDMA (code division multiple access) U.S. wireless carriers, such as Sprint PCS and Verizon, use CDMA to allocate bandwidth for users of digital wireless devices. CDMA distinguishes between multiple transmissions carried simultaneously on a single wireless signal. It carries the transmissions on that signal, freeing network room for the wireless carrier and providing interference-free calls for the user. Several versions of the standard are still under development. CDMA promises to open up network capacity for wireless carriers and improve the quality of wireless messages and users’ access to the wireless airwaves. It’s an alternative to GSM, which is popular in Europe and Asia (see GSM).

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