By Vasilis Koudounas and Omar Iqbal



Mobile Computing : A technology that allows transmission of data, via a computer, without having to be connected to a fixed physical link.

Mobile voice communication is widely established throughout the world and has had a very rapid increase in the number of subscribers to the various cellular networks over the last few years. An extension of this technology is the ability to send and receive data across these cellular networks. This is the principle of mobile computing.

Mobile data communication has become a very important and rapidly evolving technology as it allows users to transmit data from remote locations to other remote or fixed locations. This proves to be the solution to the biggest problem of business people on the move - mobility.

In this article we give an overview of existing cellular networks and describe in detail the CDPD technology which allows data communications across these networks. Finally, we look at the applications of Mobile Computing in the real world.


Mobile telephony took off with the introduction of cellular technology which allowed the efficient utilisation of frequencies enabling the connection of a large number of users. During the 1980's analogue technology was used. Among the most well known systems were the NMT900 and 450 (Nordic Mobile Telephone) and the AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone Service). In the 1990's the digital cellular technology was introduced with GSM (Global System Mobile) being the most widely accepted system around the world. Other such systems are the DCS1800 (Digital Communication System) and the PCS1900 (Personal Communication System).

A cellular network consists of mobile units linked together to switching equipment, which interconnect the different parts of the network and allow access to the fixed Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). The technology is hidden from view; it's incorporated in a number of tranceivers called Base Stations (BS). Every BS is located at a strategically selected place and covers a given area or cell - hence the name cellular communications. A number of adjacent cells grouped together form an area and the corresponding BSs communicate through a so called Mobile Switching Centre (MSC). The MSC is the heart of a cellular radio system. It is responsible for routing, or switching, calls from the originator to the destinator. It can be thought of managing the cell, being responsible for set-up, routing control and termination of the call, for management of inter-MSC hand over and supplementary services, and for collecting charging and accounting information. The MSC may be connected to other MSCs on the same network or to the PSTN.

Mobile Switching Centre

The frequencies used vary according to the cellular network technology implemented. For GSM, 890 - 915 MHz range is used for transmission and 935 -960 MHz for reception. The DCS techology uses frequencies in the 1800MHz range while PCS in the 1900MHz range.

Each cell has a number of channels associated with it. These are assigned to subscribers on demand. When a Mobile Station (MS) becomes 'active' it registers with the nearest BS. The corresponding MSC stores the information about that MS and its position. This information is used to direct incoming calls to the MS.

If during a call the MS moves to an adjacent cell then a change of frequency will necessarily occur - since adjacent cells never use the same channels. This procedure is called hand over and is the key to Mobile communications. As the MS is approaching the edge of a cell, the BS monitors the decrease in signal power. The strength of the signal is compared with adjacent cells and the call is handed over to the cell with the strongest signal.

During the switch, the line is lost for about 400ms. When the MS is going from one area to another it registers itself to the new MSC. Its location information is updated, thus allowing MSs to be used outside their 'home' areas.


Data Communications is the exchange of data using existing communication networks. The term data covers a wide range of applications including File Transfer (FT), interconnection between Wide-Area-Networks (WAN), facsimile (fax), electronic mail, access to the internet and the World Wide Web (WWW).

Mobile Communications Overview

Data Communications have been achieved using a variety of networks such as PSTN, leased-lines and more recently ISDN (Integrated Services Data Network) and ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode)/Frame Relay. These networks are partly or totally analogue or digital using technologies such as circuit - switching, packet - switching e.t.c.

Circuit switching implies that data from one user (sender) to another (receiver) has to follow a prespecified path. If a link to be used is busy , the message can not be redirected , a property which causes many delays.

Packet switching is an attempt to make better utilisation of the existing network by splitting the message to be sent into packets. Each packet contains information about the sender, the receiver, the position of the packet in the message as well as part of the actual message. There are many protocols defining the way packets can be send from the sender to the receiver. The most widely used are the Virtual Circuit-Switching system, which implies that packets have to be sent through the same path, and the Datagram system which allows packets to be sent at various paths depending on the network availability. Packet switching requires more equipment at the receiver, where reconstruction of the message will have to be done.

The introduction of mobility in data communications required a move from the Public Switched Data Network (PSDN) to other networks like the ones used by mobile phones. PCSI has come up with an idea called CDPD (Cellular Digital Packet Data) technology which uses the existing mobile network (frequencies used for mobile telephony).

Mobility implemented in data communications has a significant difference compared to voice communications. Mobile phones allow the user to move around and talk at the same time; the loss of the connection for 400ms during the hand over is undetectable by the user. When it comes to data, 400ms is not only detectable but causes huge distortion to the message. Therefore data can be transmitted from a mobile station under the assumption that it remains stable or within the same cell.


Today, the mobile data communications market is becoming dominated by a technology called CDPD.

There are other alternatives to this technology namely Circuit Switched Cellular, Specialised Mobile Radio and Wireless Data Networks. As can be seen from the table below the CDPD technology is much more advantageous than the others.

Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD) Circuit Switched Cellular Specialized Mobile Radio (Extended) Proprietary Wireless Data Networks
Speed best best good good
Security best better good better
Ubiquity best best good better
Cost of Service best better better good
Cost of Deployment best best better good
Mobility best good better good
Interoperability best good good better

CDPD's principle lies in the usage of the idle time in between existing voice signals that are being sent across the cellular networks. The major advantage of this system is the fact that the idle time is not chargeable and so the cost of data transmission is very low. This may be regarded as the most important consideration by business individuals.

CDPD networks allow fixed or mobile users to connect to the network across a fixed link and a packet switched system respectively. Fixed users have a fixed physical link to the CDPD network. In the case of a mobile end user, the user can, if CDPD network facilities are non-existent, connect to existing circuit switched networks and transmit data via these networks. This is known as Circuit Switched CDPD (CS-CDPD).

Circuit Switched CDPD

Service coverage is a fundamental element of providing effective wireless solutions to users and using this method achieves this objective. Where CDPD is available data is split into packets and a packet switched network protocol is used to transport the packets across the network. This may be of either Datagram or Virtual Circuit Switching form.

The data packets are inserted on momentarily unoccupied voice frequencies during the idle time on the voice signals. CDPD networks have a network hierarchy with each level of the hierarchy doing its own specified tasks.

CDPD Overview

The hierarchy consists of the following levels :

CDPD Network


There are some actions that are necessary in order to obtain reliability over a network.

The information needed for the above actions are stored in data bases. The Home Location Register (HLR) stores information relating the Mobile Station (MS) to its network. This includes information for each MS on subscription levels , supplementary services and the current or most recently used network and location area. The Authentication Centre (AUC) provides the information to authenticate MSs using the network , in order to guard against possible fraud , stolen subsciber cards , or unpaid bills. The Visitor Location Register (VLR) stores information about subscription levels , supplementary services and location for a subscriber who is currently in, or has very recently been ,in that area. It may also record whether a subscriber is currently active , thus avoiding delay and unnecessary use of the network in trying to call a switched off terminal.

The data packets are transmitted at speeds of typically 19.2 Kilobits/second to the MDBS, but actual throughput may be as low as 9.6 Kilobits/second due to the extra redundant data that is added to transmitted packets. This information includes sender address, reciever address and in the case of Datagram Switching, a packet ordering number. Check data is also added to allow error correction if bits are incorrectly recieved. Each data packet is encoded with the check data using a Reed-Solomon forward error correction code. The encoded sequence is then logically OR'ed with a pseudo-random sequence, to assist the MDBS and mobile units in synchronisation of bits. The transmitted data is also encrypted to maintain system security.

CDPD follows the OSI standard model for packet switched data communications. The CDPD architecture extends across layers one, two and three of the OSI layer model. The mobile end users handle the layer 4 functions (transport) and higher layers of the OSI model such as user interface.


The question that always arises when a business is thinking of buying a mobile computer is "Will it be worth it?"

In many fields of work, the ability to keep on the move is vital in order to utilise time efficiently. Efficient utilisation of resources (ie: staff) can mean substantial savings in transportation costs and other non quantifyable costs such as increased customer attention, impact of on site maintenance and improved intercommunication within the business.

The importance of Mobile Computers has been highlighted in many fields of which a few are described below:


With the rapid technological advancements in Artificial Intelligence, Integrated Circuitry and increases in Computer Processor speeds, the future of mobile computing looks increasingly exciting.

With the emphasis increasingly on compact, small mobile computers, it may also be possible to have all the practicality of a mobile computer in the size of a hand held organizer or even smaller.

Use of Artificial Intelligence may allow mobile units to be the ultimate in personal secretaries, which can receive emails and paging messages, understand what they are about, and change the individuals personal schedule according to the message. This can then be checked by the individual to plan his/her day.

The working lifestyle will change, with the majority of people working from home, rather than commuting. This may be beneficial to the environment as less transportation will be utilised. This mobility aspect may be carried further in that, even in social spheres, people will interact via mobile stations, eliminating the need to venture outside of the house.

This scary concept of a world full of inanimate zombies sitting, locked to their mobile stations, accessing every sphere of their lives via the computer screen becomes ever more real as technology, especially in the field of mobile data communications, rapidly improves and, as shown below, trends are very much towards ubiquitous or mobile computing.

Major Trends in Computing

Indeed, technologies such as Interactive television and Video Image Compression already imply a certain degree of mobility in the home, ie. home shopping etc. Using the mobile data communication technologies discussed, this mobility may be pushed to extreme.

The future of Mobile Computing is very promising indeed, although technology may go too far, causing detriment to society.


CDPD Cellular Digital Packet Data
NMT Nordic Mobile Telephone
AMPS Advanced Mobile Phone Services
GSM Global System Mobile
DCS Digital Communication System
PCS Personal Communication System
PSTN Public Switched Telephone Network
BS Base Station
MSC Mobile Switching Centre
MS Mobile Station
WAN Wide Area Network
ISDN Integrated Services Data Network
ATM Asynchronous Transfer Mode
PSDN Public Switched Data Network
PCSI Pacific Communication Systems Inc.
CS-CDPD Circuit Switching Cellular Digital Packet Data
RF Radio Frequency
MSK Minimum Shift Keying
FSK Frequency Shift Keying
MDBS Mobile Data Base Station
MDIS Mobile Data Intermediate Systems
DSMA-CD Digital Sense Multiple Access with Collision Detection
CSMA-CD Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Detection
MNLP Mobile Network Location Protocol
M-ES Mobile End Systems
IS Intermediate System
OSI-CLNS Open Systems Interconnection - Connectionless Network Services
IMSI International Mobile Subscriber Identity
HLR Home Location Register
AUC Authentication Centre
VLR Visitor Location Register
POS Point of Sale



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