Computerworld

EV-DO cellular data services catch on

As availability expands, U.S. businesses are eyeing EV-DO networks to deliver broadband speeds to mobile devices

Increasing speeds and falling prices are adding to the appeal of 3G Evolution Data Optimized wireless data services, which deliver broadband speeds to mobile devices.

As availability expands, more businesses are eyeing EV-DO networks that let users with a wireless phone, laptop or other device access applications and services from anywhere they get a cell phone signal.

"EV-DO has really taken off. Laptops perform very well with EV-DO connectivity," says Rena Bhattacharyya, an analyst at research firm IDC.

The performance gain comes from EV-DO services' transmission rates, which are comparable to those of most home DSL or cable modem offerings. The current technology, called EV-DO Revision 0, supports upload speeds of 50K to 70Kbps and download speeds of 400K to 700Kbps.

"The two big applications driving this wireless data usage are e-mail and PC-cellular data connectivity," Bhattacharyya says. "E-mail performed just fine with 2G and 2.5G services, but you really needed higher-speed connections to get your PC laptop connection to have a compelling experience," she says.

In the United States, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless are leading the charge to expand EV-DO coverage. Sprint says its 3G network is available in 220 markets and 8,700 cities and potentially can reach as many as 188 million customers. Verizon Wireless does not offer a market or city count, but says its EV-DO network potentially can reach as many as 150 million customers in the United States.

One early adopter is Pittsburgh-based Union Switch & Signal (US&S), which makes signaling and control equipment for railroads and mass transit industries.

US&S has been using EV-DO services for about 18 months, says Ted Davidson, the company's manager of network and computing infrastructure. US&S gets EV-DO through remote-access service provider Fiberlink Communications , which provides bundled versions of carriers' network offerings as managed services for enterprises.

Systems engineers, network support staff and project managers are among the US&S employees using the service. Adding EV-DO to the mix lets these users do their jobs more efficiently, Davidson says.

"We have system engineers that are physically at railroad sites at the tracks doing installation and testing," Davidson says. These employees can't come and go as they please because of security protocols. So in the past, if engineers got to a site and found they needed additional software or different drawings, they would have to wait until they got back to their hotel and then return to the site the next day. "With EV-DO they can download software and new drawings immediately. It saves a tremendous amount of time," he says.

Thanks to EV-DO services, network support staff, too, are more responsive to user issues. They run network troubleshooting applications from wherever they are, as long as they have a laptop and EV-DO card, Davidson says.

Likewise US&S project managers on the road visiting clients use the EV-DO network to tap into corporate resources, even when a client can't provide an office space with Internet connectivity. In addition, although many hotels offer these options, if Wi-Fi and Ethernet access aren't available or require an additional fee, employees use the Fiberlink service to connect to the Internet and corporate office, Davidson says.

Meanwhile, the high-speed wireless-data technology is making it easier for Davidson to deploy a virtual environment using VMware virtualization software. Combining VMware with EV-DO access will let employees establish a VPN connection with headquarters through which they access tools and applications just as if they were in the office, he says.

Part of this plan calls for creating a loaner-laptop pool, Davidson says. Such a pool will let US&S issue desktop computers for the majority of the staff and provide VMware-equipped loaner laptops as needed. Without the reliable, high-speed, ubiquitous access EV-DO technology provides, the remote access experience would be painful, he says.

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Falling prices

Not only can users expect a better wireless data experience from EV-DO than from older technologies, but EV-DO is cheaper to boot. Prices for EV-DO services are down 25 percent compared to early last year, Bhattacharyya says.

Customers signing up for service in January 2006 would have paid about US$80 (AUD$101) per month for unlimited wireless data access with a two-year contract, Bhattacharyya says. Today, customers can expect to pay US$60 or less per month with a two-year contract.

In addition, users can expect to see more creative offerings from the carriers, Bhattacharyya says. Verizon Wireless recently started offering session-based pricing for customers accessing its network via a laptop with an embedded EV-DO modem, for example.

Of course EV-DO isn't the only game in town.

It's the 3G technology of choice for such legacy Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) wireless service providers as Sprint and Verizon. But U.S. wireless service providers, such as Cingular Wireless , with legacy Global System for Mobile Communications/Universal Mobile Telecommunication System (GSM/UMTS) networks are turning to High Speed Packet Access (HSPA)-based 3G services.

Cingular is upgrading its network with High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA)/UMTS gear. "Cingular's rollout isn't quite as extensive," as its competitors but it providers a similar experience, Bhattacharyya says. Cingular says it has upgraded its network with 3G technology in 160 markets.

"HSDPA/UMTS also provides business users with a great experience," Bhattacharyya says. It supports speeds similar to those of EV-DO, Cingular says, with download speeds between 400K and 700Kbps on average and bursts as fast as 1Mbps.

Likewise, T-Mobile -- another legacy GSM network provider -- plans to deploy HSPA gear to upgrade its network. T-Mobile needed to beef up its spectrum holdings, which it did in the FCC's Advanced Wireless Services auction last year, to start its 3G rollout. While the upgrades have begun, the company is expected to make big strides in 2007.

Meanwhile, Sprint and Verizon are moving beyond EV-DO Revision 0 to EV-DO Revision A. This next-generation technology supports upload speeds of 300K to 400Kbps and download speeds of 450K to 800Kbps.

"[EV-DO] Revision A will provide faster uplink speeds and only improve end-user experiences. It's very compelling," Bhattacharyya says. While the average user will not need the faster speeds for e-mail and PC cellular data connectivity, Revision A will provide a boost for such applications as high-speed video telephony, music on demand, video messaging and large file uploads.

Sprint says it has EV-DO Revision A in 21 markets, potentially reaching 67 million customers. Verizon says it is upgrading markets for Revision A, but the wireless carrier hasn't shared details about the deployment.