WLAN, Wideband: Together?
Until now it has been conventional wisdom that it isn't practical to combine the two technologies by, say, putting an 802.11 radio in a GSM/GPRS base station, because the coverage areas of each technology are so different. Thus, while you could connect to the wireless WAN base station from miles away, you'd have to be a mere few hundred feet away from said base station to connect via wireless LAN. A poor -- not to mention pointless -- coverage combo, then.
However, while Unstrung was meeting with Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) at the 3GSM Congress, John Smrstik, the vowel-challenged wireless infrastructure DSP marketing manager for TI, suggested one application where a twofer technology base station would make practical sense -- and dropped some heavy hints that TI could develop such a chipset combo itself.
Equipment vendors like LittleFeet Inc. [ed. note: is it too much to ask for some serious names in this story?] are developing miniature base stations and repeater units that can be used in cities to provide better cellular coverage without the need for massive and intrusive cell sites, which tend to annoy local residents.
Such systems usually deploy a central -- but still small -- base station and then tiny repeater units that are attached to lamp posts in areas where you want to improve coverage. So, why not build an 802.11 baseband controller right into the wireless WAN base station and set up a string of 802.11 radios that connect back to the baseband controller?
Combining the two systems in one could cut costs for a carrier looking to improve cellular coverage and roll out wireless LAN access points. Rather than installing a wireless access point and public gateway software at every hotspot where they wanted to provide WLAN coverage, they could centralize the access and management features at the base station site, stringing out the inexpensive 802.11 radios to blanket the area. Basically, a vendor would be combining a simple WLAN smart media access hub configuration with a base station (see Vivato's Switch Bitch for more on the speedy evolution of wireless LAN "switching" products).
"Its an architecture that we've been talking about a lot," says Smrstik [ed. note: was he wearing lrpstik?].
Unstrung has not yet heard of any base station vendor delivering an architecture like this. However, the concept is certainly one that we'll ask exquisitely formed LittleFeet about when we meet with them later this week.
— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung