The Mobile Future Takes Shape

Carl Weinschenk

The worlds of wireless (i.e., Wi-Fi and WiMax) and cellular are beginning to coalesce in a sensible way.


The driving reality is that the emphasis is moving from voice to data. This Rocky Mountain News story focuses on consumers, but the same trends certainly are apparent -- to a lesser or greater degree -- in the business sector. The two areas are, after all, joined at the hip.


The shift will affect how networks are built. The bottom line of this ABI Research release is pretty simple: As data traffic increases, networks become taxed. The obvious response is to deploy new "network elements," as they are referred to by ABI analyst Stuart Carlaw. (We assume he is referring to base stations, but can't be sure since they aren't mentioned.)


However, giving a cellular network enough capacity to support increasing amounts of data is expensive. That's where wireless comes in: The data can be carried by Wi-Fi or WiMax for a fraction of the cost. Carlaw's illustration focuses on wideband code division multiple access (WCDMA) vs. Metro Wi-Fi, but the cost discrepancy no doubt extends to other cellular and wireless technologies as well.


We are looking at a mixed future, something that cellular carriers understand. The next iteration of advanced mobile communications, 4G, is as yet ill defined -- or, more accurately, undefined. All that is really known about it is that it will be fast, IP-based and provide the type of quality of service (QoS) and other characteristics necessary for sophisticated multimedia services. The cellular companies see the reality. Carlaw points out that Sprint has said it will use WiMax for its 4G offering and that T-Mobile is "moving toward" integrating its Wi-Fi hotspots and cellular network.


In the final analysis, the mobile industry is well positioned. The increase in data usage means business is good, and there is a frugal option for serving those new and upgrading customers.


It seems that the wireless and cellular companies are eager to cooperate and take advantage of their complementary technologies. Finally, these developments all are happening before 4G standards are developed, so any "working arrangements" between the families of platforms can be included.

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