Mobility

Will the Wi-Fi hot spot go the way of the telephone booth?

Ericsson Chief Marketing Officer Johan Bergendahl said Monday that the spread of mobile broadband is going faster than either the mobile phone or the original landline phone. He also predicted that mobile broadband will soon turn public Wi-Fi into a relic from the past.

Ericsson Chief Marketing Officer Johan Bergendahl said Monday that the spread of mobile broadband is going faster than either the mobile phone or the original landline phone (according to Computerworld and InformationWeek). Bergendahl, who was speaking at the European Computer Audit, Control, and Security Conference in Stockholm, predicted that mobile broadband will soon turn public Wi-Fi into a relic from the past.

"Hot spots at places like Starbucks are becoming the telephone [booths] of the broadband era. In a few years, [mobile broadband] will be as common as Wi-Fi is today," said Bergendahl.

"In Austria, they are saying that mobile broadband will pass fixed broadband this year. It's already growing faster, and in Sweden, the most popular phone is a USB modem."

Of course, Bergendahl thinks the solution will be the high-speed packet access (HSPA) system for which Ericsson makes the chips to power the access cards. HSPA is very popular in Europe. In the United States, HSPA is implemented by AT&T, while its rivals Verizon Wireless and Sprint have deployed mobile broadband with the competing EV-DO standard.

And the other mobile broadband competitor looming just over the horizon is WiMAX, which isn't cobbled on top of the cellular network like HSPA but is a pure mobile IP solution. Sprint will deploy WiMAX in multiple U.S. cities in 2008, starting with Chicago and Washington, D.C. in Q2. However, all of these mobile broadband solutions — especially WiMAX — will have coverage challenges. That means that carriers will need each other, and users will need the carriers to cooperate — both within national borders and across them.

"Industry will have to solve the international roaming issue," said Bergendahl. "Carriers need to work together. It can be as simple as paying [$15] per day when you are abroad."

Another major challenge for coverage is the issue of signals inside buildings, especially large buildings and underground areas, where many current wireless signals are weak or entirely useless. Picocells and femtocells will be needed to pick up the slack in order to provide consistent mobile broadband experience.

Bergendahl is right about Wi-Fi hot spots being largely displaced by mobile broadband for roaming connectivity in the future, but the big question is the timeline. How long will it take for mobile broadband to achieve mass penetration and be embedded into most laptops? I think we're looking at 3-5 years.

In the meantime, there will still be plenty of Wi-Fi buildouts going on, and even when mobile broadband is widespread, Wi-Fi will remain a last-mile connection technology in corporate networks, small businesses, and homes.

About Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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