3G vs Wifi

The two most important phenomena impacting telecommunications over the past decade have been the explosive parallel growth of both the internet nd mobile telephone services. The internet brought the benefits of data communications to the masses with email, the Web, and ecommerce; while mobile service has enabled “follow-me-anywhere/always on” telephony. The internet helped accelerate the trend from voice-centric to data-centric networking. Data already exceeds voice traffic and the data share continues to grow.

Now, these two worlds are converging. To realize the full potential of this convergence, however, we need broadband access connections. What precisely constitutes “broadband” is, of course, moving target, but at a minimum, it should support data rates in the hundreds of kilobits per second as opposed to the 50Kbps enjoyed by 80% of the internet users in the US who still rely on dial-up modems over wireline circuits or the even more anemic 10-20Kbps typically supported by the current generation of available mobile data services.

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While the need for broadband wireless internet access is widely accepted, there remains great uncertainty and disagreement as to how the wireless internet future will evolve. The goal of this article is to compare and contrast wo technologies that are likely to play important roles: Third Generation mobile (“36”) and wireless Local Area Networks (“WLAN”). Specifically, we will focus on 3G as embodied by the ‘MT-2000 family of standards versus the WLAN technology embodied by the WiFi or 802. 11b standard, which is the most popular and widely deployed of the WLAN technologies.

We use these technologies as reference points to span what we believe are two fundamentally different philosophies for how wireless internet access might evolve. The former represents a natural evolution and xtension of the business models of existing mobile providers. These providers have already invested billions of dollars purchasing the spectrum licenses to support advanced data services and equipment makers have been gearing up to produce the base stations and handsets for wide-scale deployments of 36 services. In contrast, the WiFi approach would leverage the large installed base of WLAN infrastructure already in place.

In focusing on 36 and WiFi, we are ignoring many other technologies that are likely to be important in the wireless internet such as satellite ervices, LMDS, MMDS, or other fixed wireless alternatives. We also ignore potential rivals to Wifl, at least in home networking environments. Speaking broadly, 36 offers a vertically-integrated, top-down, service- provider approach to deliver wireless internet access; while WiFi offers (at least potentially) an end-user-centric, decentralized approach to service provisioning.

Although there is nothing intrinsic to the technologies dictating that one may be associated with one type potential tensions between these two alternative world views. We believe that the wireless future will include a mix of heterogeneous of industry structure or another, we use these two technologies to focus our speculations on the wireless access technologies. Moreover, we expect that the two worldviews will converge such that vertically-integrated service providers will integrate Wifl or other WLAN technologies into their 3G or wireline infrastructure when this makes sense.

3G is a technology for mobile service providers. Mobile services are provided by service providers that own and operate their own wireless networks and ell mobile services to end-users, usually on a monthly subscription basis. Mobile service providers use licensed spectrum to provide wireless telephone coverage over some relatively large contiguous geographic serving area. Historically, this might have included a metropolitan area.

Today it may include the entire country. From a user’s perspective, the key feature of mobile service is that it offers (near) ubiquitous and continuous coverage. That is, a consumer can carry on a telephone conversation while driving along a highway at 100 Km/hour. To support this service, mobile perators maintain a network of interconnected and overlapping mobile base stations that hand-off customers as those customers move among adjacent cells.

Each mobile base station may support users up to several kilometers away. The cell towers are connected to each other by a backhaul network that also provides interconnection to the wireline Public Switched Telecommunications Network (PSTN) and other services. The mobile system operator owns the end-to-end network from the base stations to the backhaul network to the point of interconnection to the PSTN and, perhaps, parts thereof). The first mobile services were analog.

Although mobile services began to emerge in the 1940s, the first mass market mobile services in the U. S. were based on the AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone Service) technology. This is what is commonly referred to as first generation wireless. The FCC licensed two operators in each market to offer AMPS service in the 800-900MHz band. In the 1990s, mobile services based on digital mobile technologies ushered in the second generation (26) of wireless services that we have today.

In the U. S. hese ere referred to as Personal Communication Systems (PCS) and used technologies such as TDMA (Time Division Multiple access), CDMA (Code Division Multiple access) and GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications). From 1995 to 1997, the FCC were deployed in the various parts of the U. S. , while GSM was deployed as the common standard in Europe. The chief focus of wireless mobile services has been voice telephony. However, in recent years there has been growing interest in data services as well.