Prices for 802.11 (Wi-Fi) chips and gear are dropping rapidly as the number of public wireless LAN hot spots increases. But the technology has yet to gain critical mass either for consumers or carriers, according to executives at the Telecosm 2003 conference, held last week in Squaw Valley, Calif.
Average selling prices for Wi-Fi chips will be slashed in half to $8 this year, $4 next year, and as little as $2 in 2006, predicted Sky Dayton, chief executive of Boingo Wireless Inc., a Santa Monica, Calif., start-up trying to establish the underpinnings of an 802.11 roaming service. The company now has deals with 2,600 hot spot operators, Dayton said.
Intel Corp. president Paul Otellini reiterated his company's support for 802.11, which is now integrated into all of Intel's Centrino notebook chipsets.
"We're jumping in front of the parade," Otellini said. However, "Wi-Fi is in danger of being overhyped, and to some degree we may be guilty of that by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on our Centrino advertising campaign."
Intel, Santa Clara, Calif., is mandating wireless connectivity in all its new buildings, Otellini said. "It's the cheapest way of connecting, and I believe other people see this too," he said.
Whether 802.11 will be integrated in next-generation cell phones was a source of debate among Telecosm panelists. "I believe Wi-Fi will become a standard component of cell phones," Dayton said.
Paul Jacobs, executive vice president of Qualcomm Inc., San Diego, was less certain. "Basically, we're just waiting for the carriers to ask us to put it in our chipsets. I think we'll see the demand for it eventually, and we have already built the cores for it."
Otellini has noted a shift over the last 18 months in his discussions with carriers on Wi-Fi's inclusion in cell phones. "They've moved from saying 'heck, no' to seriously considering it," he said.
Jeff Belk, vice president of marketing for Qualcomm, argued that users will prefer an $80 CDMA card that supplies broad geographic coverage with hundreds of Kbits per second of data to fixed-location 802.11 links. In addition, Wi-Fi's Mbit bandwidth capabilities are choked by slower DSL back-end connections, he said.
Qualcomm's Jacobs said carriers may want to support Wi-Fi links as a way to offload data traffic, potentially lowering infrastructure costs for themselves and long-distance charges for some business users. "Rick Merritt