The two most important phenomena impacting telecommunications over the past decade have been explosive parallel growth of both the internet and mobile telephone services. The internet brought the benefits of data communications to the masses with email, the web, and ecommerce; while mobile service has enabled â€œfollow-me anywhere/always onâ€ telephony. The internet helped accelerate the trend from voice-centric to data-centric networking. Data already exceeds voice traffic and the data share continues to grow. Now these two worlds are converging. This convergence offers the benefits of new interactive multimedia services coupled to the flexibility and mobility of wireless. To realize the full potential of this convergence, however, we need broadband access connections.
Here we compare and contrast two technologies that are likely to play important roles: Third Generation mobile (â€œ3Gâ€) and Wireless Local Area Networks (â€œWLANâ€) . The former represents a natural evolution and extension of the business models of existing mobile providers. In contrast, the WiFi approach would leverage the large installed base of WLAN infrastructure already in place. We use 3G and WiFi as shorthand for the broad classes of related technologies that have two quiet distinct industry origins and histories.
Speaking broadly, 3G offers a vertically â€“integrated , top â€“down , service â€“ provider approach to delivering wireless internet access , while WiFi offers an end â€“user â€“centric , decentralized approach to service provisioning. We use these two technologies to focus our speculations on the potential tensions between these two alternative world views. The wireless future will include a mix of heterogenous wireless access technologies. Moreover, we expect that the two world views will converge such that vertically-integrated service providers will integrate WiFi or other WLAN technologies into their 3G or wire line infrastructure when this make sense. The multiplicity of potential wireless access technologies and /or business models provided some hope that we may be able to realize robust facilities â€“ based competition for broadband local access services. If this occurs, it would help solve the â€œlast mileâ€ competition problem that has been deviled telecommunication policy.
SOME BACKGROUND ON WiFi AND 3G
3G is a technology for mobile service providers. Mobile services are provided by service providers that own and operate their own wireless networks and sell mobile services to and â€“users. Mobile service providers use licensed spectrum to provide wireless telephone coverage over some relatively large contiguous geographic service area. Today it may include the entire country. From a userâ€™s perspective, the key feature of mobile service is that it offers ubiquitous and continuous coverage. To support the service, mobile operators maintain a network of interconnected and overlapping mobile base stations that hand-off customers as those customers move among adjacent cells. Each mobile base station may support userâ€™s upto several kilometers away. The cell towers are connected to each other by a backhaul network that also provides interconnection to the wire line Public Switched Telecommunications Network (PSTN) and other services. The mobile system operator owns the end-to-end network from the base stations to the backhaul networks to the point of interconnection to the PSTN. Third Generations (3G) mobile technologies will support higher bandwidth digital communications. To expand the range and capability of data services that can be supported by digital mobile systems, service providers will have to upgrade their networks to one of the 3G technologies which can support data rates of from 384Kbps up to 2Mbps.