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Conference pegs wireless for multiple industry roles

Nov 17, 20032 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork Security

* Wireless tales from NGN conference

At the Next-Generation Networks (NGN) show in Boston early this month, I expected a heavy emphasis on traditional networking topics, such as improving Internet and WAN performance. But while these discussions were in evidence, wireless networking commanded the lion’s share of attention.

Here are a couple of wireless issues that came up:

* 802.16 starts to gel

The industry is still designing architectures for 802.11-based “Wi-Fi” wireless LANs. But noise surrounding Wi-Fi’s so-called successor, the 802.16 standard, is getting louder. The 802.16, or “WiMAX,” standard has two flavors: up-to-75M bit/sec 802.16a for fixed backhaul and last-mile connectivity, and 802.16e for mobile metro-area networking. There could be a draft of the 806.16e standard as early as mid-2004.

In a keynote address, Sean Maloney, executive vice president and general manager in Intel’s Communications Group, called WiMAX the “next big thing; a big brother to Wi-Fi.” He played a video showing him driving 10 miles away from the Intel campus while retaining 6M bit/sec connectivity over a WiMAX connection.

Meanwhile, hot spot service wholesaler Cometa Networks said it will link its hot spots in metro areas using WiMAX so that smaller spots won’t each need their own terrestrial backhaul link. There could be aggregation sites with traffic to justify fatter pipes to the backbone for greater throughput, said Gary Weis, Cometa’s CEO, in a keynote address.

* Hot spots gain steam

Mark Lowenstein, managing director at Mobile Ecosystem, a wireless consultancy, asserted that mobile carriers “have done a complete one-eighty on WLANs over the past year,” pointing to the fact that most are embracing hot spots an adjunct to their 2.5G/3G WAN build-outs.

Cometa’s Weis said there is room for much diversity in hot spot business models. Cometa – founded nearly a year ago by AT&T, Intel and IBM – wholesales Wi-Fi wireless Internet access services to carriers.

The two veteran conference chairs – Dave Passmore, research director at The Burton Group, and John McQuillan, who founded the NGN conference 16 years ago – both countered that they didn’t believe there’s much of a long-term model for “pay” hot spots.

Passmore summed up their views with a simple analogy: “[Wi-Fi access] should be like the salt, pepper and ketchup on the table at a restaurant,” he said. “Maybe we don’t have to find new business models – just apply those that already work.”