of the American Society for Information Science and Technology       Vol. 27, No. 5              June / July 2001



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Glossary of Wireless Terms

3G (Third Generation Wireless)

3G refers to near-future developments in personal and business wireless technology, especially mobile communications. This phase is expected to reach maturity between the years 2003 and 2005. Ultimately, 3G is expected to include capabilities and features such as

  • enhanced multimedia (voice, data, video and remote control;
  • usability on all popular modes (cellular telephone, e-mail, paging, fax, videoconferencing and Web browsing);
  • broad bandwidth and high speed (upwards of 2 Mbps);
  • routing flexibility (repeater, satellite, LAN);
  • operation at approximately 2 GHz transmit and receive frequencies; and
  • roaming capability throughout Europe, Japan and North America.

IEEE 802.11

In wireless LAN (WLAN) technology, 802.11 refers to a family of specifications developed by a working group of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). There are three specifications in the family: 802.11, 802.11a, and 802.11b.

The 802.11 and 802.11b specifications apply to wireless Ethernet LANs and operate at frequencies in the 2.4-GHz region of the radio spectrum. Data speeds are generally 1 Mbps or 2 Mbps for 802.11 and 5.5 Mbps or 11 Mbps for 802.11b, although speeds up to about 20 Mbps are realizable with 802.11b.

IEEE 802.15

IEEE 802.15 is a standard being developed for Wireless Personal Area Networks (WPAN.)


Bluetooth is a computing and telecommunications industry specification that describes how mobile phones, computers and personal digital assistants can easily interconnect with each other and with home and business phones and computers using a short-range wireless connection. With this technology, users of cellular phones, pagers and personal digital assistants (PDAs) such as the PalmPilot will be able to buy a three-in-one phone that can double as a portable phone at home or in the office. Bluetooth devices can quickly be synchronized with information in a desktop or notebook computer, initiate the sending or receiving of a fax, initiate a print-out, and, in general, allow all mobile and fixed computer devices to be totally coordinated. The technology requires that a low-cost transceiver chip be included in each device. Products with Bluetooth technology are expected to appear in large numbers soon.

CDPD ( Cellular Digital Packet Data)

CDPD is a specification for supporting wireless access to the Internet and other public packet-switched networks. Cellular telephone and modem providers that offer CDPD support make it possible for mobile users to get access to the Internet at up to 19.2 Kbps. Because CDPD is an open specification that adheres to the layered structure of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model, it has the ability to be extended in the future. CDPD supports both the Internet's Internet Protocol (IP) and the ISO Connectionless Network Protocol (CLNP).

DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol)

DCHP is a communications protocol that lets network administrators manage centrally and automate the assignment of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses in an organization's network. Using the Internet Protocol, each machine that can connect to the Internet needs a unique IP address. When an organization sets up its computer users with a connection to the Internet, an IP address must be assigned to each machine. Without DHCP, the IP address must be entered manually at each computer, and, if computers move to another location in another part of the network a new IP address must be entered. DHCP lets a network administrator supervise and distribute IP addresses from a central point and automatically sends a new IP address when a computer is plugged into a different place in the network.

GSM (Global System for Mobile communication)

GSM is a digital mobile telephone system that is widely used in Europe and other parts of the world. GSM uses a variation of time division multiple access (TDMA) and is the most widely used of the three digital wireless telephone technologies (TDMA, GSM and CDMA). GSM digitizes and compresses data, then sends it down a channel with two other streams of user data, each in its own time slot. It operates at either the 900 MHz or 1800 MHz frequency band.

GSM is the de facto wireless telephone standard in Europe. GSM has over 120 million users worldwide and is available in 120 countries, according to the GSM MoU Association. Since many GSM network operators have roaming agreements with foreign operators, users can often continue to use their mobile phones when they travel to other countries.

HomeRF (Home Radio Frequency)

HomeRF is a home networking standard developed by Proxim Inc. that combines the 802.11b and Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunication (DECT) portable phone standards into a single system. HomeRF uses a frequency-hopping technique to deliver speeds of up to 1.6 Mbps over distances of up to 150 feet too short a range for most business applications, but suitable for the home market that it was specifically developed to serve.

HomeRF is one of two standards currently vying for the wireless home-network market share. The other main contender is Wi-Fi. Although industry support is split between the two technologies, a number of companies (such as IBM and Proxim itself) have begun to back both standards.

MAC (Media Access Control) Address

On a local area network (LAN) or other network, the MAC (Media Access Control) address is a computer's unique hardware number. On an Ethernet LAN, it is the same as the Ethernet address. When a device is connected to the Internet, a correspondence table relates the IP address to the computer's physical (MAC) address on the network.

UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System)

UMTS is a so-called third-generation (3G), broadband, packet-based transmission of text, digitized voice, video and multimedia at data rates up to and possibly higher than 2 megabits per second (Mbps). It offers a consistent set of services to mobile computer and phone users no matter where they are located in the world. Based on the Global System for Mobile (GSM) communication standard, UMTS is endorsed by major standards bodies and manufacturers and is the planned standard for mobile users around the world by 2002. Once UMTS is fully implemented, computer and phone users can be constantly attached to the Internet as they travel. Users will have access through a combination of terrestrial wireless and satellite transmissions. Until UMTS is fully implemented, users can have multi-mode devices that switch to the currently available technology (such as GSM 900 and 1800) where UMTS is not yet available.

Today's cellular telephone systems are mainly circuit-switched, with connections always dependent on circuit availability. Packet-switched connection, using the Internet Protocol (IP), means that a virtual connection is always available to any other end point in the network. It will also make it possible to provide new services, such as alternative billing methods (pay-per-bit, pay-per-session, flat rate, asymmetric bandwidth and others). The higher bandwidth of UMTS also promises new services, such as video conferencing. UMTS promises to realize the Virtual Home Environment (VHE) in which a roaming user can have the same services to which the user is accustomed when at home or in the office, through a combination of transparent terrestrial and satellite connections.

Nortel Networks and BT (British Telecommunications) are currently conducting trials of UMTS technology, using advanced mobile phone/computing device prototypes.

WAP (Wireless Applications Protocol)

WAP empowers mobile users of wireless devices to easily access live interactive information services and applications from the screens of mobile phones. Services and applications include e-mail, customer care, call management, unified messaging, weather and traffic alerts, news, sports and information services, electronic commerce transactions and banking services, online address book and directory services, as well as corporate intranet applications.

WAP utilizes HTTP 1.1 Web servers to provide content on the Internet or intranets, thereby leveraging existing application development methodologies and developer skill sets such as CGI, ASP, NSAPI, JAVA and Servlets. WAP defines an XML (eXtensible Markup Language) syntax called WML (Wireless Markup Language). All WML content is accessed over the Internet using standard HTTP 1.1 requests.

Editor's note: The primary source for the information in this Glossary is the online terminology resource whatis.com, which can be found at http://whatis.techtarget.com/

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