Nokia Announces 3G/Wifi Modem Card

from the it's-coming... dept

We’ve been talking for a bit now about how 802.11 networks and so-called 3G networks would live together, and how the carriers would deal with 802.11 (WiFi) networks, since they’ve invested so much in 3G. Nokia may be pushing forward with a plan of its own by announcing that they’ve built a laptop modem that works on both systems. This way laptop users will be able to jump onto a WiFi network if one is around, and if not, use the local GPRS network. It will be interesting to see if carriers actively sell such combined solutions, and how they position them. It will also be very interesting to find out usage patterns of people who owned such cards to see how often they ended up using the expensive and slower 3G systems.

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Comments on “Nokia Announces 3G/Wifi Modem Card”

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Mike (profile) says:

Re: more references?

Argh. I just went looking for some good resources that simply summarize everything, and I’m coming up blank… Maybe somebody else has a better idea of a good resource?

I’ll try to do a quick summary, which will probably be wrong and will cause people to start yelling at me…

Current mobile phone technology (where the focus is on voice) is generally called 2G (for second generation) wireless. In the U.S. there are two major standards that are used: CDMA and TDMA. Some carriers (Sprint, Verizon) use CDMA others (AT&T, Cingular) use TDMA. The differences in how they work aren’t that important, but could be looked up if necessary…

Most of the world uses a third standard, GSM (though, there certainly are plenty of places around the world that use CDMA, as well). As mobile phone companies are realizing that the world is moving towards wireless data as well as voice they wanted to upgrade their networks so that you could easily access the internet using wireless as well.

They defined (though, not all that well) a number of specifications for using wireless spectrum for high speed data transfers which they called 3G (for third generation). 3G specifications could be reached on CDMA networks or GSM networks, though everything required upgrading. Since the upgrade process was slow and expensive – many carriers opted to use an upgrade path that let them offer some service that doesn’t quite reach the 3G specifications, but is certainly better than our current mobile phones. They call these plans 2.5G, for semi-obvious reasons.

On CDMA networks, the technology is called 1xRTT and Verizon has already launched their 1xRTT network in some places. Sprint PCS will launch their’s nationwide this summer. 1xRTT lets people access the internet through their mobile phone systems at speeds of about 40 kbps (slightly slower than most dialup modems). If no one is using the system and you’re standing next to the tower, you might be able to get speeds 2 or even 3 times as fast… but it’s unlikely.

All the TDMA systems need to upgrade to GSM to eventually offer 3G. Their “middle step” is a technology they can overlay on their TDMA networks called GPRS. Again, this is somewhat faster for data, though not quite 3G expected speeds. Generally, these would be a little bit faster than your dialup modem.

All of these require spectrum that the various mobile phone companies have purchased to build their networks on.

At the same time, entirelely separate from this, a technology known as 802.11b or WiFi (they’re the same thing) came about from a totally different arena. WiFi uses a freely available spectrum (no one had to go out and buy expensive spectrum licenses as the phone companies had to do for their mobile phone systems). However, it’s designed for things like local networking… In other words, instead of having to connect your computer to a local network by using ethernet cables or whatever networking cables you use – you can just stick a WiFi card into your computer that will connect to a local router/hub wirelessly (if there’s such a wireless router/hub nearby).

Using 802.11b you can transfer data at speeds up to 11 Mbps, which is a hell of a lot faster than we’re talking about for any of the 2.5G/3G systems. However, WiFi is a “local” technology and can only reach 300 feet or so.

So, while a mobile phone company can set up a cell tower somewhere and cover a number of square miles with wireless access, a WiFi router can generally cover a single home or office. Also, the various 2G/2.5G/3G systems have made it simple to transfer from access point to access point, so if you’re talking on your phone and travelling in a car, you don’t have to (hopefully) get cut off each time you switch which tower you’re connected to.

But, with WiFi being so inexpensive (you can go out today and set up your own home with a router and a wireless card for under $200) and simple to use, people are wondering if there isn’t a way to forget all about 2.5G/3G stuff and simply use WiFi.

Of course, there is the big issue of “coverage”. How do you blanket the entire country/world with a technology that can only reach 300 feet from each access point. Plus, the big question of all the wireless carriers who spent big money upgrading all their technology to 2.5G/3G systems which would all go to waste if everyone used WiFi instead…

Anyway… that’s my quick, off-the-top-of-my-head explanation. Maybe it’s helpful… maybe it’s not.

Generally, speaking most of the acronyms have to do with wireless phone spectrums and whether they’re 2.5G or 3G – and on which technology they’re built. WiFi is an entirely different technology really designed for small distances for home or office use in connecting computers to the internet. They’re very different technologies and each have their own benefits – but in some (at this time, very small) ways, they overlap. The big question that some people are starting to ask, is whether or not there’s a way to move WiFi towards the world of the 2.5G/3G systems to make a real, easy, cheap, wireless internet that everyone can use.

I’m sure some people will disagree with some of my description… but hopefully that helps a little.

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