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Mobility and choice should trump dogmatism

- August 27, 2006 - 0 Comments

Last week, CNET’s site ran my signed editorial that provided a counterpoint to a Nortel executive who had written in earlier to state that only cellular technologies were well positioned to support the mobile Internet. While I am an old cellular warrior and a clear fan of the technology — look, it’s impact on the planet cannot be understatated — we as technologists must constantly look past our own pariochial positions on what we build toward what problems we trying to solve, both technically and financially. If we do this, I believe Wi-Fi is going to be a compelling play in the public arena for many reasons. Moreover, I see Wi-Fi complementing other wireless technlogies including cellular, WiMax and others, still to come, in the rush to mobilize societySaid simpler: applications, bandwidth, spectrum and equipment costs must be considered in development of public WAN kinds of services.Here is the piece in its entirety a recent CNET column, Richard Lowe suggested that Cellular and Wireless LAN are competitive technologies. These two wireless approaches, however, are actually allies in the race to mobilize society.It is worth dispelling three of the WLAN (wireless local area network) myths–security, mobility and bandwidth–raised in Lowe’s article and better understand how both technologies benefit the end user.Security:WLANs already support some of the most demanding, business-critical applications in the world, including stock exchanges, the U.S. government and military, and large manufacturers. Increasingly, security for this technology has become more bulletproof. No longer just a convenience technology, WLANs represent a resilient and robust access method. Indeed, the issue is not whether WLAN is as secure as other wireless approaches, but whether the advanced security features available for this technology are being implemented.WLAN access to the Internet is clearly not inferior to the more closed approaches propelled by cellular equipment vendors.Cellular networks are now, too, subject to viruses and must be self-defending like WLANs. Hence, when thinking about all network security, we must remember the famous words attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”Mobility:With the emergence of centralized WLAN management, including techniques derived from earlier cellular systems, mobility is not a weakness but a strength for these networks. Today, many municipalities use mobile access routers in police cars with WLANs to connect to critical information. Our outdoor mesh supports very fast hand-offs, but you are unlikely to be going more than 100 miles per hour in a downtown area to test it. Just in case, though, we demonstrated with Cheever racing at the Indianapolis 500–and reported in CNET just a year ago–that the ultra high-speed mobility barrier can be solved. ( and coverage:Provision of bandwidth to end users is inherently constrained, not simply by network technologies but also by the amount of available spectrum and how a service is provisioned. Clearly, cellular technologies have advantages in areas of sparser population and larger geographies (e.g., suburban and rural areas), but the “you get what you pay for” rule always applies to it. Thus the real issue is not cellular operators versus Google.WLAN access to the Internet is clearly not inferior to the more closed approaches propelled by cellular equipment vendors. Indeed the emergence of rich-media applications such as Unified Communications and video actually support the case for higher-speed WLANs to satisfy customer demand for personalized communications services. I love my Razr, but do not want to use it for a rich-media conferencing application or to watch a movie on its two-inch screen.Why fight? As Infonetics recently reported, we are seeing rocketing appeal of WLAN VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephony services, with a particular uptake in the appeal of dual-mode (cellular and WLAN) phones. Infonetics projects WLAN telephony will be a $3.7 billion market in 2009, when 91 percent of revenue is expected to come from dual-mode handsets.As devices increasingly become more dual and multimode, including WiMax, choice in wireless networks will support more cost-effective scenarios for users. When smart devices and users can move from network to network to take advantage of higher performance, lower cost or even different security scenarios, then switching costs drop, and consumers benefit from a world of choice. At the end of the day, consumers do not care what network they connect to but how well their applications perform.Thus, the real issue is not cellular operators versus Google. This is an apples-and-apple-pie comparison. Technology cannot substitute for strong business models, but it can certainly support changing business models. As we learned with Google, if you can direct where people spend their time and focus, the advertising community might build you a pathway of gold.To wit, having worked in the cellular industry during the early phases of cellular, I remember several studies in the late 1980s that suggested cellular use would not exceed 1 million phones in the U.S. and would appeal only to a very limited customer demographic.Similarly, public WLAN services are in a nascent phase, and there are already several constituencies, including municipal governments, happily taking advantage of them. More mobility and choice seem better than dogmatism. All industry players should be wary of technology religion, lest they, in the closing words of Shakespeare’s Othello, “love not wisely, but too well.”

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