Report: Competing Wireless Techs Strive For Harmony

With Wi-Fi, WiMAX, and 3G being jockeyed around by a multitude of vendors and seeming to compete with each other, a new look at wireless-LAN markets suggests they will eventually coexist successfully.

W. David Gardner, Contributor

January 25, 2005

2 Min Read

With Wi-Fi, WiMAX, and 3G being jockeyed around by a multitude of vendors and seeming to compete with each other, a new examination of wireless-LAN markets suggests they will eventually all coexist successfully, once their respective business models play out and take shape.

"I think we'll eventually see concentric circles of wireless data coverage," said Richard Webb, of Infonetics Research, in an interview Tuesday. "The first [circle] will be Wi-Fi, then WiMAX, and then 3G. Finally it will be 2.5 GSM or GPRS." He noted that the speeds and robustness of the different layers will decrease as they move away from Wi-Fi.

Webb, who is the firm's directing analyst, Wireless LANs, studied the strategies, technology requirements, and implementation plans of 24 global fixed-line and mobile-service providers, as well as a number of wireless ISPs. He noted that currently they are grappling with fundamental business model questions, "such as how services will be priced and bundled and how big the potential market is."

Based on his findings, Webb believes VoIP will be the application that will promote widespread adoption of wireless LANs throughout the enterprise. In addition, the overall phenomenon should push the Wi-Fi market. Some 50 percent of the study's respondents said they expect to offer packetized-voice services in 2006.

He believes that the circles of wireless technologies could be somewhat problematic for the fixed-line service providers, including the former Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) in the U.S. "They will have a challenge," he said, noting that wireless LANs in homes attached to VoIP and cell-phone service could work to squeeze the RBOCs.

And there are challenges that must be faced across the board. Webb said: "Authenticating users and controlling network access is the top network management challenge, and one that vendors must resolve."

Many of the interviewed service providers--33 percent--envision an important role for WiMAX filling different roles: Wi-Fi hotspot backhaul, portable wireless Web access, and even cable/DSL broadband replacement. "WiMAX could be Internet access in itself," he said.

As the concentric circles of wireless LANs unfolds, one of its initial manifestations will be to breathe new life into the Wi-Fi market.

Web said no single vendor can drive the market and predicted that vendors will form close relationships to promote the growth of wireless LANS. He cited Intel's leadership in wireless technology with its Centrino chip, noting that the semiconductor giant could provide a similar boost for WiMAX technology.

He noted that Motorola (handsets), Avaya (VoIP technology), and Proxim (wireless-LAN technology) could work together in delivering the multi-layered wireless technologies.

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