Communication that takes place via airwaves as opposed to cables or telephone lines. Specifically, wireless communication is enabled by packet radio, spread spectrum, cellular technology, satellites, and microwave towers, and it can be used for voice, data, video, and images. The convergence of wireless networks and computer networks has begun as Internet technology continues to develop and operate over a variety of networks.
Fixed wireless refers to wireless devices or systems that are situated in fixed locations, such as an office or home, as opposed to devices that are mobile, such as cell phones or PDAs. Fixed wireless devices normally derive their electrical power from utility mains, but portable wireless devices normally derive their power from batteries. The advantages of fixed wireless include the ability to connect with users in remote areas without the need for laying new cables. It is estimated that nearly 62 million people will use wireless devices to access the Internet by 2003, an increase of about 728 percent since 2000.
Gaining Perspective: As of October 2000, only about 36 percent of Americans subscribed to wireless phone service, a penetration rate less than half of some European countries and 15 to 20 percentage points lower than other tech-savvy nations (such as Japan and Israel). Finland and Sweden have penetration rates of 80 percent.
As of November 2007, over 250 million Americans now subscribe to a cellular phone service, which places the penetration rate at 82.4 percent (the highest point ever). In ten years, that number has more than quadrupled from 55 million subscribers in 1997.
So why did the U.S. lag so badly in wireless communications? For a number of reasons, including government policies and business rivalries. But most importantly, it's the inability to agree upon a transmission protocol standard (which, for example, prevents phones tuned into Sprint's network to work on AT&T's). American carriers are split among three broadly defined digital technologies: Sprint uses CDMA, AT&T uses TDMA, and VoiceStream uses GSM. GSM is the standard used in Europe (which accounts for the wide compatibility of cell phones that coexist all over the continent). Industry analysts feel the three rival technologies will either converge or a new generation of phones will be capable of accessing more than one system, such as Japan's i-mode system. The other important reason the U.S. continues to lag in wireless calling is that its conventional phone service is much less expensive than that in the rest of the world (which is a good thing).