The Battle for Wireless Technology Dominance Gets Serious

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The Battle for Wireless Technology Dominance Gets Serious

A broadband connection has become more and more essential to every aspect of our lives, whether at work, or at home, or on the road. People are becoming so dependent on it that the next obvious step is to have a wireless connection everywhere. And that’s what we’ve been promised for some time now.

Intel has been touting its WiMax connection with the slogan, “Connecting the next billion people.” The idea was that with its high-speed, long-distance antennas, it could create vast hot spots covering entire cities or even nations.

The problem is, WiMax hasn’t happened. And a report in The Economist says it might not happen until 2010 at the earliest. The problems abound. The technology seems to have trouble communicating with all the different types of hardware that end users have. And it hasn’t come close to reaching the promised speeds, either.

While Intel struggles to launch WiMax, competitors have seized the market, jumping on the opportunity to forge a standard that will be difficult for Intel and its partners to dislodge once it gets established. The idea is simple in theory: The cell phone networks already exist. Why not use them for broadband wireless?

T-Mobile recently announced that it’s doing just that in the Czech Republic, using IPWireless, which is already installed in Germany, England, and New Zealand. Netcom Africa is taking the same approach in Nigeria. This is especially important in countries that don’t have an installed wired infrastructure.

Qualcomm recently entered the game by purchasing Flarion, which owns a rival technology and plans to install it in Finland. Qualcomm’s own technology is the basis of third-generation, or 3G, mobile phones. Both IPWireless and Flarion plan to use their mobile phone technology for wide-area, works-anywhere coverage for Internet access.

Qualcomm’s 3G mobile phone technology was installed in Europe but didn’t work as expected. The company’s plans to use it to deliver broadband wireless failed when it couldn’t achieve the necessary speeds. The hope is that Flarion will deliver where 3G didn’t.

Curiously, Intel encouraged these competitive moves by hyping WiMax so energetically. Mobile phone technologists woke up to the drum beat of WiMax and reasoned that they could do it cheaper, better, and faster. As they looked more closely at WiMax, they realized that even when it does become available, it will initially be available only in certain locations. The WiMax antennas will be installed outside of houses or office buildings for local use only...

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