Carriers Looking At WiFi As Alternative To 3G

from the good-for-them dept

We discussed this briefly in our Mobile Partnerships Report (free download here), and it’s a really interesting concept. The various wireless carriers throughout the U.S. have spent a lot on spectrum and infrastructure to move towards a “3G” solution for wireless data – while 802.11b has snuck in under their noses. 802.11b works now and is significantly cheaper and faster than any potential 3G solution. Obviously, it was designed for different things, so there would still need to be a lot of work done to make the two systems comparable. However, (especially with VoiceStream’s attempted purchase of MobileStar), other wireless carriers are suddenly putting a lot more thought into a WiFi solution. It makes a lot of sense to offer some sort of hybrid, that will jump onto an 802.11b (and eventually .11a) network when you’re in range, and then switch to a 3G solution when you’re not covered by a WiFi “hotspot”. Now, let’s see if they can do it.

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Comments on “Carriers Looking At WiFi As Alternative To 3G”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I can't think of a more stupid idea... here's why:

The only country with a widely deployed 3G network is Japan and the *only* reason they were able to do 3G (and what does that word 3G mean? It means being able to bill (as in the charge showes up on your phone bill) highspeed (32kbps and up) data connections (notice I didn’t say TCP/IP) per packet (lightweight content can be stuffed in a single packet, a la WAP “cards”) was because NTT had a 10 year old failed data network that they had attempted to market as a voice service.

PHS… it’s a micro-cell architecture, all digital access point right on the edge of the frequencies band that don’t do a particularly good job penitrating structures (read almost line of sight). It took ten years and trillions of yen to get the network to an acceptable level of coverage and even then, the network was unsuitable for voice. The only thing even vaugly equivalent to that in the US is the Metricom network (which went bankrupt trying to implement almost exactly what the PHS network is today… good thing the PHS network had NTT and caller pays billing to subsidise it for the 10 years it took to cultivate it).

Anyway, Current cellular providers in the North America will *never* be able to deploy 802.11 with the degree of success required for it to be a marketable service… they simply don’t have enough antenna sites and could never afford to.
PHS has access points every 500 meters… North
America hasn’t reaced that level of development and population density. 802.11 supports fewer end nodes per access point and has an even shorter range, more line of sight signal requirements. From a simple technical prospective, it will never happen. Throw in geographic/finicial constraints and it becomes painfully obvious the entire concept is a pie in the sky, .com post-bust, VC snipe hunt.

If you really want to understand the feasability of a 802.11 pico-cell network, you need to head over to one of the many wireless ISP mailing lists and read what the professionals are saying. You can’t even put more than 3 access points within proximity of eachother without causing an unacceptable level of interference, you’re going to have a very hard time “coloring the map” (which is a four color problem, if I remember correctly). Roaming? Interoperability between existing wireless ISP and all the cellular carriers who want to roll out 3G? It’s not going to happen. Hell, you can even look at Breezecom’s rollout of 802.11 within Tokyo itself and I actually respect Breezecom’s 802.11 technology; however, their Tokyo rollout has been a complete failure and that was even with access provided to the power company’s phone poles!!! Besides the service would be based on unlicensed frequencies that are not even legally protected from interference… Don’t believe that’s a problem?… look at this e-mail which popped up on the nznog list quite a while ago:

> From: “Neil”
> Subject: CLEAR Net Tempest
> To:
> Hi All,
> Has anyone else had any problems with Clear’s 802.11 wireless
> internet service ( as
> a source of interference? They have just done a rollout in Rotorua
> and totally stoped 3 separate wireless networks that had been running
> together nicely for the past year or two.
> […]

Doh! In some places, it appears as though the incumbant phone companies/cellular carriers might roll out 802.11 to squash fixed 802.11 wireless ISP and to eliminate any potential competition to their *real* 3G rollout

Any handset maker/cellular carrier pinning their 3G hopes on 802.11 have very real technical issues to overcome. The IEEE designed (and continues to design) 802.11 in a maner that limit its’ usefullness to solving the “ugly wires in the house problem” and not the “last mile problem”. Given the trend of using higer frequencies that tend to be more line of sight, I don’t see wireless LAN equipment competeing/augmenting cellular service any time soon.

Besides all of the technical issues, independent 802.11 wireless ISPs are already being aggregated by a national ISP:

The cellular carriers are too late to the party.

Personally, I think there are some intersting parallels (and compair/contrasts) that can be drawn from the failure of Metricom in the US and the re-invention of PHS in Japan; however, neither the metricom gear, nor 802.11 gear was designed to be embedded in the handset form factor or deal with power limitations that exist in such devices.

The best thing the handset developers could do, in my opinion, is add a compact flash port on their handsets that allows users to connect to a thrid party access point by bridging between their handset and PDA/Laptop using bluetooth (and this could only be done once 802.11a/g compact flash cards become avalable). Maybe the carriers could collect some statistics that would allow them to justify building a *real* 3G network instead of looking for bogus easy outs that won’t work in the end.

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