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Hot spots not hot

May 27, 20042 mins

* WLAN hot spots may not be all they’re cracked up to be

The cloud of hype surrounding wireless LAN hot spots has cleared somewhat, laying bare some harsh realities.

Cometa Networks, which debuted a year-and-a-half ago amid much fanfare, recently shut down. The company was supposed to be the champion of a movement toward WLAN technology as the next big high-speed wide-area access method:

Meanwhile, at this week’s CeBit America show in New York, I attended a session presented by Mark Lowenstein, managing director of consulting firm Mobile Ecosystem. He pointed out that despite all the hype, WLAN access was only a $15 million market last year, and there are other 3G wireless technologies becoming available.

“Wireless LAN is not a 3G killer,” he said.

Lowenstein also pointed out that those LAN hot spots are extremely fragmented at the moment, with only small pockets of access available. He likened it to the state of cellular phones circa 1985.

Lowenstein was more keen on CDMA2000 1xEV-DO, which despite its cumbersome name has quite a bit to offer. Rates are much slower than WLAN technology, but still are in the range of 300K bit/sec to 500K bit/sec. Verizon Wireless is currently rolling out this technology to major cities.

Hints that the WLAN hotspot market wasn’t what it seemed arose last year, when market research firm Forward Concepts released a study that showed vendor enthusiasm way ahead of market acceptance.

Still, Lowenstein said WiMAX shows promise. This follow-on to WLAN technology can transfer 70M bit/sec over a distance of 30 miles.

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