WiFi, 3G or both?
At the height of the telecoms boom in 2000, network operators engaged in a vigorous bidding war across Europe to secure licences to operate next-generation 3G mobile services. These promised to satisfy all the voice and data communications data communications, application of telecommunications technology to the problem of transmitting data, especially to, from, or between computers. In popular usage, it is said that data communications make it possible for one computer to "talk" with another. needs for both businesses and consumers.
By late 2001, however, operators were struggling to find the funding to roll out 3G systems, and trials showed that the technology was harder to deploy than many had expected. By way of contrast, public 'hot-spots' based on WiFi (802.11b) technology were spreading across cities, providing a quick and relatively cheap way for businesses to give staff access to the Internet on the move. With so many hotspots available, some commentators began to ask: Is there even a need for 3G services?
In 2004, however, both sides of the debate appeared to moderate their positions. The realisation that the two technologies have different applications, and that they need not be mutually exclusive Adj. 1. mutually exclusive - unable to be both true at the same time
incompatible - not compatible; "incompatible personalities"; "incompatible colors" , has encouraged leading European mobile operators to begin to embrace WiFi (see box).
Cellular 3G services provide full mobility, and have near nationwide coverage; WiFi provides greater bandwidth, and is suitable for longer use in temporary, but fixed locations, such as in a hotel or airport.
WiFi still provides far higher data speeds than 3G. Today a standard 802.11b connection will run at around 5Mbps. 3G services, based on the European Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service In telecommunication, the term telecommunications service has the following meanings:
1. Any service provided by a telecommunication provider.
2. (UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) The GSM implementation of the 3G wireless phone system. Part of IMT-2000, UMTS provides service in the 2 GHz band and offers global roaming and personalized features. ) standard, run at 384kbps. The next generation of mobile services, dubbed dub 1
tr.v. dubbed, dub·bing, dubs
1. To tap lightly on the shoulder by way of conferring knighthood.
2. To honor with a new title or description.
3. 4G, however, promises speeds of 1Mbps.
Ericsson has already tested High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) See HSPA. ) networks running at 4.9Mbps in China, and it can theoretically support speeds of 14Mbps. As yet, however, no European operators offer HSDPA services and there are few firm commitments to launch.
Hotspot services will continue to evolve too, with operators upgrading access points to the 802.11g standard for higher speeds, and eventually to 802.16, or WiMax. This has the potential to reach speeds of up to 75Mbps with a range of 50km, raising the prospect of metro-area wireless services. But there are limitations. WiMax slows down when more users share the network, and fully portable WiMax equipment will be slower.
In the nearer term, enterprises will have to make do with a combination of WiFi, 3G and so-called '2G' General Packet Radio Services (GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) The first high-speed digital data service provided by cellular carriers that used the GSM technology. GPRS added a packet-switched channel to GSM, which uses dedicated, circuit-switched channels for voice conversations. ) devices, with interoperability between them still limited. GPRS should not be considered outmoded out·mod·ed
1. Not in fashion; unfashionable: outmoded attire; outmoded ideas.
2. No longer usable or practical; obsolete: outmoded machinery. : HP and Nokia are shipping handheld devices that support WiFi for high-speed data use on a wireless LAN A local area network that transmits over the air typically in the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz unlicensed frequency band. It does not require line of sight between sender and receiver. Wireless base stations (access points) are wired to an Ethernet network and transmit a radio frequency over an area or in a hotspot, and GPRS for use elsewhere. Few converged devices support 3G.
What businesses are already demanding, and what operators hope to provide, is integrated billing for all wide area services. In the UK, only T-Mobile offers combined 3G and WiFi tariffs; businesses should expect more operators to follow this lead, as the industry realises the standards can coexist.