Everyday Q&A: How does mobile Internet work?

Tomorrow’s cell phone or PDA will be able to do it all — make phone calls, access e-mail, download music, play movies, track news, and more. Since internet was first made commercially public in 1988, the technology has become integrated into nearly every aspect of our lives and is currently used by 1.319 billion people worldwide.

The invention of mobile internet brings the capabilities of web browsing to people anywhere by connecting mobile devices to existing cellular networks. Connecting to the Global Systems for Mobile Communications (GSM) network involves transferring small packets of information from a cellular radio transmitter to the receiving wireless device.

While the GSM network is always “on” for cell phone calls, assigning an access point name (APN) and connecting to the general packet radio service (GPRS) network provides a gateway to the internet. Each user is assigned different frequency channels for uploading and downloading, and the consolidation of information into packets allows users to share the same channel frequencies.

A mobile device is identifiable within the private GSM network by its access point name (APN), and a firewall prevents the mobile device address from being discovered by the public internet network. The GPRS technology is efficient, connecting only to the GSM network when data is transferred, and fast, providing maximum download rates of 56 kilobits per second (Kbps).

The major limitations to mobile internet technology today include the limited size of the devices and the incompatibility of much of the data available on the internet with mobile browsers. The WC3 mobile web initiative and .mobi (dotmobi) are both initiatives aimed at standardizing mobile browsing protocols and data formats.

If the technology is to grow in the future, providers must figure out how to overcome the challenges of limited navigation, slow connection speeds, and compressed pages to offer their customers technology that is stronger, better, and faster.