NEW ORLEANS—Boingo Wireless Inc. and T-Mobile U.S.A. Inc. on Tuesday announced plans to combine wireless LAN and 2.5G network services, as industry leaders discussed the future of both.
At the CTIA Wireless show here, Boingo CEO Sky Dayton said that his company and T-Mobile are developing software that will make it easier for users to switch from T-Mobiles branded “HotSpot” wireless local area “Wi-Fi” networks to its GPRS (general packet radio service) wide area networks.
“I think it serves as a model to the industry of what were going to see in the future,” Dayton said during a keynote session here. “A user doesnt want to think about what service is available. They just want to get connected.”
The software will include help files, a hot spot location directory, and a set-up process that helps users move between networks with limited hassle.
The WLAN hot spot market is growing, without question. There are about 3,000 commercial, pay-per-use WLANs deployed throughout the United States. Toshiba and Accenture at the beginning of the year began selling a so-called hot spot in a box, and at CTIA Toshiba officials said that they have sold more than 3,000 of them since January. They attribute this to the cost of the product, which sells for a mere $199.
“Were driving down the cost of hot spots,” said John Marston, vice president of business development at Toshibas commercial systems group in Irvine, Calif. “If you spend a lot on a hot spot then you dont make any money.”
In fact, while leaders in the wireless industry all acknowledge that 802.11b “Wi-Fi” WLAN technology has its place, they dont agree on the commercial viability of public hot spot services.
“Right now its a bit like herding cats,” said Tim Donohue, president and CEO of wireless carrier Nextel Communications Inc., noting that because WLANs are so easy for end users to deploy, its not easy to turn them into a commercial business. “Skys trying to put it together, and God love him for it, but from my perspective its not ready for prime time yet.”
: Wireless Services: What Lies Ahead”>
Len Lauer, president of wireless carrier Sprint PCS, remains neutral on the subject, but said his company is looking at billing structures for Wi-Fi just in case.
“It is an if,” he said. “But if it comes, well be ready.”
Qualcomm Inc. president and CEO Irwin Jacobs made his case that high-speed WANs will render WLAN hot spots unnecessary. Qualcomm holds the majority of patents for CDMA (code division multiple access) technology, which is the basis for the Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless Inc. WANs.
Verizon this week announced plans to offer high-speed CDMA 1x EVDO service in San Diego and Washington, with plans to branch out to other metropolitan areas later in the year.
“If youre going to have that coverage wherever you might be, why would you need a hot spot?” Jacobs said. That said, Verizon Wireless this week announced its own plans for Wi-Fi hot spot services.
The CTIA keynoters on Tuesday also discussed the future of messaging services for wide area wireless networks, including both SMS ( text-only short message service) and MMS (multimedia message service, which includes pictures.)
Text messaging is driving the wireless business in Europe, according to Dave McGlade, president of British wireless carrier MM02, who said the adoption of SMS in the UK was “viral.” Multimedia messaging is showing similar promise, he said. In fact, the Brits have started a trend called “Celebing,” which entails sending a picture of a celebrity to a friend in lieu of a text message. Certain celebrities represent certain sentiments. For example, a picture of Britney Spears means “fancy a few beers?” and a picture of guitarist Hank Marvin means “Im starvin,” explained McGlade.
McGlade attributed the adoption of SMS in Europe and the lack thereof in North America to the fact that European carriers established interoperability agreements for SMS more than a year before North American carriers did.
Nextels Donohue disagreed, saying that Americans simply preferred speaking over texting.
“Voice is expensive in Europe,” he said. “Voice is cheap in the U.S.”
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