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Mobility and choice should trump dogmatism

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.”

Hot, Sweaty, and Wireless

Last week, while I was on vacation, I listened to the book The World Is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. I listened to the audio-book CDs while I purged my storage unit of old, unused, and unnecessary clutter.Yes, I spent my vacation sweating in a hot, dusty, 10x10 metal box sorting through 70+ boxes of books, family heirlooms, obscure kitchen devices, abandoned furniture, obsolete computer manuals, and way too many pairs of skinny jeans stored in the forlorn hope that I will someday fit into them again-.As I tossed my Macintosh 512K computer manual into the trash pile and listened to Mr. Friedman’s stories of the world’s flattening revolution, I realized that I am again part of a historic technology shift. I’m part of the cresting wave towards a wireless world. Yes, I’ve come a long way from my Macintosh world of 1984-.. Read More »

WiMax and WiFi- The future of mobile wireless networks?

Will WiMax find a spot at the main dinner table with CDMA, EVDO and UMTS--or will it be regulated to the kid’s table with the likes of PHS, DECT and 802.20? There’s no doubt that WiMax is getting traction in the emerging markets for fixed broadband wireless access but this is still a very small segment relative to the larger global mobile market consisting of tier 1 mobile operators around the world. Sprint’s recent announcement to invest over a billion dollars into WiMax has definitely breathed life into the protocol, but its future as a dominant more wireless protocol is still not guaranteed. Its advantages over other competing 3G and 4G protocols being promoted by the 3GPP standards body is narrow and debatable. In the plus column, WiMax offers lower, if not zero, intellectual property as opposed to CDMA’s 5% royalty charge. And being built upon standard IP technology it offers an infrastructure with both lower CAPEX and OPEX. However, in terms of technology maturity the balance leans towards the next generation of protocols based on UMTS and CDMA. Read More »

Unified Wired and Wireless: History Repeated

At a recent event hosted by the City Universities of New York (CUNY), I had the privilege of presenting Cisco’s strategy for secure mobility to a team of security experts from the various universities. I enjoyed the opportunity immensely. Primarily because the audience responded very positively to Cisco’s secure mobility story; but also because I had the opportunity to hear Aruba talk about its approach to wireless and security.Aruba opened their presentation by discussing the evolution of wireless technology and by making the point that wireless and wired should never be unified. Rather, they claim, wireless is so different it should always be kept separate from the rest of the enterprise IP network.Hmmm- sound familiar anyone? Think voice. Read More »

Dave Molta’s Unwires FUD

One of the people I most respect in our industry is David Molta, the Senior Technology Editor for Network Computing who covers the mobile space as well as serves as an engineering professor at Syracuse University. In addition to running the most objective test team in the industry — and I am not saying it because we have done well by it; certainly we have felt the wrath of his pen as well — he is one of the best analysts and observers on the growth of the wireless marketplace.In his column last week in Network Computing Wireless FUD: Alive and Well,” he reflects on the emotional state customers must deal with after listening to Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) from vendors. It’s worth perusing. aptly notes “[t]he wireless network market is an industry that lives and dies by innovation, so fear, uncertainty and doubt are all things we have to learn to live and work with.”For those of us with a touch of gray, we also remember the reports in the mid-to-late eighties that predicted there would be only 1 million cell phones in the U.S. and cautioned telecom players from investing in this emerging segment.As my 11 year old son would say, Rock on Dave!