WirelessNetDesignline is pleased to publish op-ed and technology analysis articles contributed by industry experts. This is the first in an ongoing series through which we hope to provide our readers with insights and personal opinions from many perspectives.
Last week I attended the Wireless Community & Mobile User Conference , which is sponsored by California State University Monterey Bay’s Wireless Education & Technology Center (aka
There was a lot of talk about deploying IEEE 802 technologies (like Wi-Fi and WiMax) on campuses, and so little about 3G technologies such as Flash-OFDM, EV-DO, EDGE, etc. Cities like San Francisco, Chicago, and Philadelphia etc want to deploy municipal networks, but the technology is always 802-based. Why is that?
Wi-Fi and WiMax are just two aspects of mobile/fixed broadband, sharing the overall market with 3G. Certainly under ideal conditions there’s a clear performance advantage to the 802 family.
However when you factor in use-model realities the differences start to disappear and the benefits of WWAN start to become clear; wide coverage, inherent roaming capability, leverage of existing infrastructure, etc.
During the WeTEC conference they had free WiFi in the meeting room, but it was too unstable to maintain a VPN connection whereas my Verizon EV-DO cardwhile "only" 384 Kbpswas rock-solid.
So why are municipalities or college campuses making investments into unproven (and in the case of municipal wireless often technically inappropriate) 802 technologies instead of funding enhancements to 3G infrastructure and offering subsidies for city residents/workers or students?
I think the answer partially lies with an emotional perception of 3G providers (aka "cellular phone companies") as manifestations of Corporate Evil, versus the impression of Wi-Fi being a "grass-roots" technologyopen, shared, and thus immune to capitalist corruption.
If the deployer owns the whole network (such as on a college campus) then the deployer maintains full control, the service is targeted to a specific need, and is thus largely relevant. Municipal wireless enjoys no such dictatorship of the proletariat and (simply due to the complexities of deployment and management) must be operated as a business, thus it’s as prone to the lapses in customer focus and relevance which have plagued WWAN providers.
I personally believe that as the blush comes off the rose (and the costs of maintaining private wireless networks become visible) a lot of campus networks will move to management by contracted providers. You see this already in hotels and airports, most of whom now have outsourced their Wi-Fi deployments.
I’ll grant without hesitation that 3G providers (especially in the U.S.) often show an astounding lack of understanding about what customers want and need, which feeds the public perception that so-called "grass-roots" 802 technology is the way to build truly relevant wireless services.
What’s missing from this debate is the question of whether these municipal or campus networks could be served by 3G technologies from a Mobile Virtual Network Operators & Equipment MVNO and MVNE private deployment.
We’ll be hosting Andy Seybold at the July meeting of the Wireless Communications Alliance in San Jose. I always really enjoy meetings when Andy speaks partially just because he has an entertaining and engaging speaking style, but also because he’s as prone to questioning 802 hype as I am.
About the author:
David Witkowski is the Vertical Markets Business Development Manager for Wireless & RF at Cadence Design Systems, and serves as a Director for the Wireless Communications Alliance.