|Wi-Fi leaves 3G, GPRS in the dust
Asia Computer Weekly - March 10 - 16, 2003
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increases hotspots for roaming
TAO AI LEI
WI-FI (wireless fidelity) or wireless LANs (WLANs) may be threatening the
viability of 3G and GPRS systems, even before they reach mass deployment.
Asia-Pacific has been a hive of such Wi-Fi or hotspot activity.
recent is Singapore's StarHub's tie-up with wireless operators 5G and
Bluengine to provide seamless hotspot roaming in Singapore, upping the
ante in the Wi-Fi hotspot war against incumbent SingTel.
has also been actively promoting Wi-Fi hotspots, with plans by telcos and
non-telcos to extend the hotspots beyond the key urban areas like coffee
outlets and shopping complexes.
were really not intended to be mobile broadband solutions, operating in
the unlicensed 2.4GHz band, said Gary Hong, research manager,
Communications Research, IDC Asia/Pacific.
designed to provide PCs with fast Internet access wirelessly, it is an
open specification by IEEE.
also offers considerably faster speeds than 3G today. It offers
theoretical speeds of 11Mbps and can scale up to 54Mbps. This is compared
to the 40Kbps offered by GPRS, and the theoretical 2Mbps for 3G.
operators such as Sprint have achieved only 384Kbps so far, said Subha
Rama, industry analyst for Technology Practice, Frost & Sullivan.
advantages of speed and affordability has seen Wi-Fi hotspots sprout up
especially in countries with high ADSL or broadband penetration, like
Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Taiwan.
contrast, the GPRS/3G standards are developed by several vendors who spend
billions on R&D, and sell expensive equipment to the telcos for these
mobile wireless networks to fulfill the promise of speedy data or wireless
like Korea Telecom, Hanaro, Chunghwa Telecom, NTT, China Mobile, Telstra,
SingTel, and StarHub today offer hotspot services.
too long ago, some of these carriers were the very ones which were ready
to spend vast amounts to acquire 2.5G and 3G licences, noted Hong.
relatively cheap set-up costs of Wi-Fis have also seen non-carriers get in
on the act, such as Bluengine and SkyNet Global in Singapore and
the rub for telcos which have invested heftily into mobile networks and 3G
licences, is how to not to undermine their mobile business with Wi-Fi
got around this by charging the same fee per minute for both Wi-Fi and
GPRS access, even though the set up costs for Wi-Fi was likely far less
than for GPRS, said Eg Kah Yee, president & CEO of Palette Multimedia,
provider of Yellowspots hotspots.
trend is the emergence of property owners setting up building hotspots,
said Eg. Hotel chains such as the Copthorne and Shang groups have opted to
set up and run hotspots for their hotels, providing it as a value-added
service for their guests.
Wi-Fi has shortcomings that prevent it from completely overshadowing GPRS/3G.
They include: security; regulatory bottlenecks; client size; the
possibility of network interference for an unlicensed spectrum; device
issues, as PDAs currently cannot support data intensive applications as
their batteries have a shorter life-space; and billing and roaming issues.
is another problem, as Wi-Fi access tends to be restricted to heavily
populated cities that have a high number of mobile corporate users.
eventual scenario may be that both Wi-Fi and 3G will co-exist, said Hong.
are already working towards easing the technology obstacles.
Proxim and Motorola have in January unveiled plans to combine Wi-Fi,
cellular, and IP telephony networks, with trials due in 2H'03.
will allow users to shift voice calls and data transmissions from one
network to another.
is expected to emerge as a killer app for Wi-Fi in the near term,"
for Taiwanese telco Chunghwa Telecom, Wi-Fi is viewed as complementary to
GPRS/3G. "WLAN is only suitable for specific areas with a lower
tariff, and GPRS/3G can provide seamless wireless access," said Shih
Mu-Piao, chief engineer, Mobile Business Group, Chunghwa Telecom.
telco intends to evaluate the integration of WLAN and GPRS so that users
have a choice in terms of wireless Internet access.
SIM card will be used as the authentication and billing method for Wi-Fi.
For them, WiFi will never replace GPRS/3G, and they have no plans to
offer voice services over Wi-Fi.
reporting by Teresa Leung