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February 15, 2005

The Coexistence of Wi-Fi, WiMax, and Cellular

By Nancy Gohring

Speakers at a conference at Harvard discussed the roles of Wi-Fi and WiMax among the cellular networks: Some of the speakers had some interesting points. One venture capitalist noted that the mobile operators are going to be very reluctant to offload traffic onto Wi-Fi networks after they spent so much on 3G licenses. Clint McLelland from Qualcomm has a good point in reply, but it’s mostly only relevant to the U.S. market. He notes that customers subscribe to flat-rate plans so if operators offload some of the traffic to Wi-Fi, it saves the operator money by freeing up the cellular network. It’s very different in Europe, however, where the vast majority of cell phone customers pay as they go rather than paying a monthly subscription. Still, regardless of how end users pay, this is where UMA comes in because the cellular operator could still control the entire call, charging the same per minute fee whether the call uses the cellular airwaves or Wi-Fi.

There are a couple of questionable comments in this story. For instance, McLelland notes that Qualcomm’s offices are already covered in Wi-Fi so even if Intel gives WiMax base stations away, it’s unlikely that companies would replace the Wi-Fi. Companies wouldn’t do that just because someone was giving away WiMax (which they won’t) but they might use WiMax because it’s easier to deploy and potentially cheaper if it requires fewer base stations.

There was one other interesting quote in this article. The president of Tropos Networks claims that despite the farther reach of a single WiMax base station, operators will need to deploy the same number of WiMax base stations as they would Wi-Fi base stations today. I find that a bit hard to believe. I would expect that operators will need more than one WiMax base station per 30 miles, as the WiMax proponents claim. But I would also expect that operators could do with fewer base stations than in Wi-Fi deployments. Tropos may have a vested interest in that comment because the company uses Wi-Fi to cover whole towns, but Tropos could also easily migrate to WiMax and make the same sort of offering so I’m not sure where he’s coming from with that comment.

Posted by nancyg at February 15, 2005 11:13 AM

Categories: cellular

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