Good News: Wi-Fi is Boring

The companies that first started deploying Wi-Fi outdoors found to their chagrin that 802.11 is not designed for that.

“Wi-Fi was not designed for the wide area,” said IP Wireless CEO Chris Gilbert in the Plenary CEO session of Jupitermedia’s Fall 2003 Wi-Fi Planet Conference & Expo.

In the same session, Craig Barrett, president and CEO of Atheros Communications, a leading chip vendor, noted, “the 802.11 specification was made to be similar to Ethernet.”

Bandspeed, manufacturer of some high-powered access point and antenna technology, told us that with their products, Wi-Fi is now as reliable as Ethernet.

That’s probably not completely true, but it’s close enough to true that manufacturers and service providers are focusing on delivering more than just connectivity over the air.

Marlon Schafer, president and founder of WISP Odessa Office Equipment, said that broadband is not as new as it once appeared to be. “The Internet was revolutionary. Broadband is evolutionary.”

Jasbir Singh, president and CEO of Pronto Networks, a hotspot managed-service provider and software developer, said, “ISPs have to look beyond access revenue.” For hotspots, he suggested ISPs look to get ad revenue, transaction revenue (a portion of purchases made over the network), and games.

“Any service that both old people and the young are using is where we want to be,” said Singh. The future is in a service that everyone can use.

Singh pointed to a recent deployment by Pronto of coverage serving the entire town of Cerritos, Calif. “If users have Windows XP, and XP has tools for finding hotspots and connecting in a secure manner, in an environment like that, then you can offer voice services and push to talk services,” he enthused.

IPWireless’s Chris Gilbert said that what people want is obvious. “People love high speed data. They also love cheap, unlimited, simple, and ubiquitous service.”

As Wi-Fi itself becomes increasingly boring, the applications it enables are getting more interesting.

Jon DiGiovanni, director of marketing for Nomadix, told us, “our strategy is about applications over Wi-Fi networks. It’s CNN through Wayport in airports, it’s GCI delivering real time game statistics to event attendees at basketball’s Great Alaska Shootout, it’s WinQ enabling the city of Eindoven in The Netherlands to stream live broadcasts of city council meetings.”

Gilbert pointed out that Wi-Fi remains a rebel technology. Vendors of RF mapping tools were selling the ability to locate unauthorized access points, which are now called “rogue access points,” to companies that don’t even have wireless networks.

Gilbert said, “I pity the CIO trying to locate rogue access points. Personally, I like Wi-Fi and I like it wide open.”

Wi-Fi indoors is merely upsetting the established order of sysadmins. Outdoors, Wi-Fi promises a full-fledged revolution. It promises to free end users from the cable and DSL monopoly, what Schafer calls “the duopoly.”

Schafer told us, “great things are happening and the market segment is doing well.”

Along with the success of his business, Schafer explained his ultimate goal. “The failure of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 proved that we cannot legislate customer service and fair competition into the phone companies. Instead, we have to take the profit out of the phone companies by taking their customers so that they are forced to play nice.”

Telecommunications is the nexus of the world. Schafer said, “our nation, and the world, need good communications. They will enable us to prosper, and to better educate people, which will fight terrorism. People need to be educated about what the truth is.”

The truth is not the network itself, but, from The Netherlands to Alaska (maybe someday in Iraq, Myanmar, Turkmenistan, and North Korea), the truth is delivered as an application over the network. That’s exciting.

Reprinted from ISP-Planet.

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