Table: The 3G Challenge
The new generation of phones will have to communicate with the previous generation. This means equipping 3G handsets with at least three different radio bands, as well as a computer. In addition, users are likely to demand extended battery life, plus a machine that slides discreetly into a pocket.
When cell-phone users move, the network passes their call from one transmission tower to another. Picture a 3G user talking and Web surfing on the same handset--while riding a high-speed train. With two streams of data bouncing from tower to tower, only precision engineering will prevent wireless crashathons.
A cable transmits clean data, with only one error per billion bits. Wireless, in contrast, is filthy, with errors occurring 10 million times more often. Flexible wireless systems must reinterpret faulty data and know when to ignore them.