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Market analysts are faced with challenge of accurately predicting how much technology consumers will actually be willing to pay for 3G services. With 3G providing features that are ‘cool’ but expensive, and with cheaper and adequate alternatives available in form of 2.5G, pure cell-phone features no longer hold any ‘pulling’ power. In fact, some critics argue that 2.5G speeds are just fine, thank you, and provide enough flexibility for most applications.
The rapid development of wireless LANs based on 802.11 standard and future 802.11g standard means that 3G systems now have serious competition. Although Wi-Fi support is still patchy (and suffers from same security issues), and some users prefer 2.5G and 3G systems instead of Wi-Fi due to widespread coverage, wireless LANs have completely taken over office environment. Not only that but wireless LAN systems are getting faster and becoming more robust. There are plans to develop 802.11 systems that approach 1.5 Mbps in theoretical speeds. Intel and others are also looking into developing metropolitan area networks (MANs) that expand that 300 feet Wi-Fi bubble to about 30 miles, or across an entire city.
In U.S, 3G services have been slow to start. Only in late 2003 and early this year did commercial 3G packages evolve to extent that general public became interested in them. Compare this with presence of 3G services in Japan since 2001 and popularity of 3G networks in Europe since 2000 (Finland launched it’s first network in late 2000). Compared to rest of developed world, U.S is lagging behind. And here is why:
A much more developed lower-tier communications infrastructure (2G and 2.5G) has meant that there are more alternatives have been available to consumers. ‘Wi-Fi’ has become latest rage with tech-savvy consumers, and because it became available before 3G systems were fully operational, it has captured a sizeable share of wireless business market. U.S companies have several technical and legal issues in acquiring appropriate spectrum for 3G use from FCC. As technology becomes more sophisticated and bandwidth increases, systems become increasingly vulnerable to attack by malicious hackers (known as crackers) unless countermeasures are implemented to protect against such activity. Ensuring secure wireless connections in a pre-requisite to any wireless service provider.
Despite obstacles, 3G is here to stay. The main issue is to work it into market in such a way that it becomes useful for majority of people, and not just a select few. Ideally, we are looking at multi-tiered services that offer a combination of 2.5G, 3G and Wi-Fi capabilities to one, national network. Eventually we would be using multiple networks to check our email, leave a message for a friend and download that bonus music video onto our PDA. Being part of a culture that revels on paying a flat rate for unlimited access, I would expect such a network to offer different levels of service, with customers being charged according to their service package, and not having to pay multiple fees for Wi-Fi and 3G access.
Just as PC users are starting to wonder whether there really is a need for faster computers, whole communications industry might also be entering a period of transition (not just a few years but perhaps a decade or two) where new technologies would not mean that older technologies become obsolete; rather, two separate consumer groups would emerge who would use old and new technologies side by side.
Mike Ber is the owner of the Canadian Domain Name Portal called www.Every.ca He is also a contributing author to www.ComputerMagazine.ca, www.Developer.ca, and www.XP.ca