Wi-Fi and Packet Networks Are Not Mutually Exclusive
By Eric Lin, Mon Mar 29 23:00:00 GMT 2004

After a few years, Wi-Fi has really taken off. The equipment is easily available, hotspots are plentiful, and the service is usually affordable. So how will cellular data compete, or cooperate, with Wi-Fi?

Mobile Pipeline sums up a new Infonetics study of carriers from Europe, Asia and North America. The carriers either have or are interested in deploying a Wi-Fi network, but none of them are sure what strategy or price model will create the right balance between Wi-Fi and cellular income. Carriers like T-Mobile are now mildly successful having blanketed nations with hotspots and selling consumer-level subscriptions. Others are partnering with Wi-Fi aggregators, some who just sell access to large corporations. No obvious winner has emerged yet.

Singapore could serve as a microcosmic lab for developing a balance between Wi-Fi and cellular- in this case 3G. Two of the three largest carriers in Singapore have covered the country with 600 over hotspots, which is an average of one hotspot per square kilometer. Business Times explores the delicate balance that carriers will need to reach when pricing 3G data. Since a hotspot is never far away, 3G data will need to be priced low enough to compete with Wi-Fi, but high enough so that the carriers will be able to make back their huge investments in the new networks.

Wi-Fi Networking News has a better idea. Sure, price will always be an issue, but carriers will have to separate cellular from Wi-Fi by services, since it will be difficult to compete on speed or price. The operators who can offer feature phone and smartphone applications that take advantage of 3G data in more immediate or more interactive ways that Wi-Fi can, could sell 3G data regardless of perceived speed or (to a reasonable extent) price comparisons.