Burning Question: Why Isn’t Wireless Net Access Available Everywhere?   Leave a comment

By Cliff Kuang



Illustration: Don Clark

You might remember a time when everyone—from telco
giants to corner coffee shops—was furiously serving up Wi-Fi.
McDonald’s became an Internet café, and dozens of municipalities
nationwide were racing to set up open hot spots. Your broadband
connection was about to be as portable as your cell phone. That was
like five years ago.

What happened next? Zilch. “There has been a complete lack of
leadership from the regulatory agencies, service providers, and device
makers,” says Ashvin Vellody,
senior vice president for enabling technologies at communications
research firm Yankee Group. Fortunately, cellular providers are
stepping up to fill the motivational vacuum. Omnipresent broadband
access is almost here. Again. Really.

Even skeptics have to concede that the odds look pretty good this
time. The technology won’t be your familiar 802.11—it never had the
bandwidth or range to be viable anyway. The airwaves will instead be
paved with a new generation of wireless broadband. Some of these
so-called 4G networks
will use the 700-MHz spectrum that the government auctioned off last
year, and they promise to blanket every medium to large city in
Net-ready radio waves.

It’s about time. Cell phone companies have been asleep at the wheel
for years, loath to upgrade to expensive new networks when their old
ones “work just fine.” The iPhone slapped them awake. Before Apple’s
smooth-talker, portable broadband didn’t look juicy enough to
chase—cellular data usage was slim. But the typical iPhone owner uses five times
more data than the average cell user. “It took Apple and its ecosystem
of apps and interactivity to prove the pent-up demand for ubiquitous
broadband,” Vellody says.

And now, mobile devices like netbooks and Google phones have joined in to force the issue. Clearwire introduced a WiMax
service in Baltimore and Portland, Oregon, with a commitment to add 80
more markets by the end of 2010. Verizon is testing a related
technology, Long Term Evolution,
and aims to roll out coverage by 2010; Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and
Nokia are all building compatible devices. Both WiMax and LTE will
offer about the same DSL-ish speed (5-6 Mbps), but bitrates could grow
to 15 Mbps by 2012.

Unfortunately, the current economic malaise is slowing some capital
expansion plans. (How convenient.) “It won’t be overnight, but you’re
eventually going to see mobile broadband replace your at-home
connection,” says Barry West, Clearwire’s president and chief architect. A bright forecast—but believe it when you actually see the sun.

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Posted 24 May 2009 by chrismmm in Uncategorized

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