WaPo: "Tech firms dreaming of wireless boom"

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/13/2010 - 13:41

There is so much confusion and mis-direction in this article that it is hard to know where to start, and I don't really blame Cecilia Kang, the Washington Post reporter who wrote the article. She interviewed a bunch of wireless equipment vendors and wireless services firms, and it those firms that are doing the dreaming. And most of it is dreaming. If the FCC does release additional spectrum for wireless broadband use, it will be years before off the shelf commercial devices are available for it. Standards and protocols have to be developed, which is a contentious and time-consuming effort. And then new chips have to be designed and new equipment for the chips has to be rolled out. And the industry then has to convince current users to throw away all their existing equipment and buy new. Perhaps the silliest statement in the article is about the "vast" potential, which was "validated" by pointing out that over "1 billion" WiFi chips are already in laptops, cellphones, and other devices. Um, are we going to throw all those away and buy new everything? I don't think so.

Remember WiMax? No one else does either. WiMax was going to solve all the world's problems just four or five years ago. The was a "WiMax Industry Summit" in every major city in the U.S. just about every week for about two years. Where is WiMax today? Nowhere. Now LTE is supposed to be so much better than WiMax. The two wireless protocols have much in common in terms of performance and capacity, but the point is that the "WiMax revolution" has already been passed by before it started by LTE. Meanwhile, laptop and portable device vendors keep releasing products using the same old protocols that are supposedly outmoded (i.e. WiFi). And that's the problem with wireless--to get more performance, you have to throw away 90% of your original capital investment and replace everything. On the other hand, if you need more capacity with fiber, you can cheaply and easily increase any fiber link by simply replacing the equipment on each end of the fiber--you don't have to "upgrade" the fiber itself.

Want proof that LTE/WiMax/White space is NOT going to solve all the world's problems? Look at poor AT&T and their experience with the iPhone. When the iPhone was released, they thought they might have to double network capacity, but it turns out that iPhone users fooled them--the company has found that the smartphone owners use between ten and 100 times more data bandwidth than other cellphone customers. And it keeps getting worse--as the iPhone gets faster, iPhone owners use even more bandwidth. As fast as the company rolls out more capacity, it gets used up, because customers can do more, like watch major league baseball live video streams, which just crushes AT&T's network.

Wireless is important, but it is not cheap, and we all still need fiber connections at home and at work. Wireless is essential for mobility access to the 'net, but it is not a replacement for fiber--it's a complement to fiber.

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