The Long Wait for WLAN/WAN
The research firm says that "offering WLAN services today will enable mobile operators to experiment with broadband services, to combine them with their GPRS and CDMA 1x RTT offerings." However, if this is to happen, it will require chipset and card vendors to develop combined wireless LAN and WAN products.
Enter Problem, stage left. According to IDC analyst, Ken Furer [ed. note: jawohl!], most vendors are concentrating on developing chipsets that support multiple WLAN standards (see It's WLAN Seduction Season) or cellular communications and Bluetooth, not combined wireless LAN and WAN silicon.
This doesn't seem the most strategic combination, Furer says. However, "At least for the next couple of years, most vendors are focusing on wireless LAN in the enterprise."
Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) is the only major vendor with a combined GPRS/802.11b card available at the moment. The card, aimed at laptop users, has not yet made it to the U.S. (And its worth noting that most of Nokia's Finnish staff just took a big chunk of the summer off; not really a sign that they view their task with any great sense of urgency).
The problem with integrating WLAN into a mobile phone is that 802.11b has heavy power requirements, making it difficult to use with small, battery-powered devices. Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) has confirmed that it is looking into incorporating WLAN onto its CDMA chipsets (see WLAN/WAN, Thank You Qualcomm?). However, it has not given a time frame as to when this might happen.
Furer reckons it will be two or three years before we see combined wireless chipsets available in volume -- perhaps even longer for mobile phones.
There are a few startups working on low-cost, low-power, single-chip offerings, notably Ashvattha Semiconductor Inc. However, most of the big players are still working on their dual-mode WLAN offerings.
So where does this leave the dream of universal high-speed data services facilitated by roaming between 2.5G networks and WLAN hotspots?
"The bottom line is that you still really need the rollout of 3G services," Furer says.
— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung