Global Mobile

U.S. wireless users are taking a leap of faith when they travel abroad. Here's what you can learn from seasoned globe-trotters.

As any American who has tried to plug in a hair dryer at an overseas hotel knows, what works here doesnt always work there. Multiply that frustration by a factor of, say, 100, and you begin to understand the vexation of IT execs working to bridge the global mobile divide.

This discontinuity has a bit of history. Writer Joanie Wexler explains in International Disconnect that U.S. mobile network providers decided about a decade ago to follow two distinct wireless protocol paths: Some went with Global System for Mobile Communications, which most of the rest of the world adopted, and others went with Code Division Multiple Access. Subscribers to CDMA-based U.S. services who travel abroad know how much trouble that protocol split has caused.

The interoperability jumble has also caused the U.S. to fall behind in the adoption of certain wireless technologies. Take, for example, Short Messaging Service, or texting. Europeans have had interoperable SMS for about 15 years; the U.S. has had it for only about four years. Or look at smart phone use. The Japanese have been using i-Mode smart phones to book train tickets and bank online since 1999; in the U.S., the i-Mode-like Wireless Application Protocol has been a bit of a dud.

Global business travelers and multinational firms are the ones left to sort it all out. As Stacy Collett reports in Wireless World, companies like Stiefel Laboratories, which operates in 30 countries, work hard to make the best of wireless diversity. Pat Smith Fernandez, Stiefels corporate vice president, global IT/MIS operations, negotiates separate wireless agreements on different continents and makes case-by-case decisions on whether to adopt the array of added wireless services offered by carriers in every country.

Is there a unified global wireless landscape on the horizon? In Fast & Furious, David Haskin writes that in a few years, just about everyone everywhere will have access to ultrafast wireless broadband. Worldwide wireless services of the future promise speed, but whether they will ever get in sync is anyones guess.

See the full report content below.

Ellen Fanning is special reports editor at Computerworld. Contact her at

Special Report

Global Mobile Special Report

Stories in this report:

  • Get Ready for the Next Wave of Wireless

    What does your wireless future hold? Blistering speeds and more sophisticated networks, thanks to advances in mobile broadband.

  • International Disconnect
    Long-fragmented U.S. wireless networks have created a chasm in the global business network.
    The lack of interoperability hits business users traveling internationally hardest.

  • In Stockholm, Cell Phones Are Guiding the Blind
    The Swedish capital is developing a system for guiding the sight-impaired and blind with voice advisories from their GIS-enabled mobile phones.

  • Worldwide Wireless
    Multinational IT execs admit that global wireless deployments can be a technology jumble. But where there's a will, there's a way.

  • 4 Tips for Deploying Global Wireless
    Advice for deploying a worldwide mobile IT plan.

  • Opinion: Think Globally, Act Locally
    Columnist Mark Hall says it's important to think about global implications, but that shouldn't slow down local efforts to find money-saving wireless applications

  • David Haskin
    Freelance writer David Haskin specializes in mobile, wireless and personal technology issues. He has been intimately involved with technology since the early 1980s and has been a technology journalist for many key print and Web publications for the last 15 years.


Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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