Wi-Fi evolves

Summary:commentary Your writer's comments several weeks ago that the humble Wi-Fi hotspot is still alive and kicking in Australia appear to have hit a nerve. The local communications community was keen to comment on this seemingly innocuous editorial.

commentary Your writer's comments several weeks ago that the humble Wi-Fi hotspot is still alive and kicking in Australia appear to have hit a nerve.

Renai LeMay, ZDNet Australia
The local communications community was keen to comment on this seemingly innocuous editorial.

First cab off the rank was the chief technology officer of local hotspot operator Azure Wireless, who claimed the ubiquity of Wi-Fi access hardware would ensure continuing demand for Wi-Fi.

"As far as the predicted departure of public Wi-Fi networks is concerned, it is not going to happen any time soon," Azure's Jacek Kowalski said in an e-mail to your writer.

"The main reason for Wi-Fi to stay around is that Wi-Fi interfaces are in practically all new laptops and many other devices such as PDAs, mobile phones, digital cameras etc."

A different view came from David Klemitz, who is part of the South Australian government's Broadband Strategy Group in the Science, Technology and Innovation Directorate.

"In terms of scaling bandwidth requirements, Wi-Fi is not great," Klemitz said in an e-mail, pointing out Wi-Fi didn't cope well as many users attempted to use the same access point.

Klemitz prefers vendor Airspan's proprietary WipLL protocol which he says does a much better job at scaling. Several networks based on WipLL are currently being built around the nation.

Another reader commented that not all Wi-Fi networks are as successful as those mentioned in your writer's editorial.

"You may wish to talk to Brisbane City Council. I believe that for over 18 months they ran a free, all-you-can eat Wi-Fi network through the Brisbane Queen Street Mall," they wrote in an e-mail which has not been confirmed to be accurate.

"I never saw anyone using it and it may have been underwhelmed by lack of use. I think they took it down about a year ago, but it suggests that there is no profit for subscription hotspots in public areas."

A second pointed to Internet projects like Fon and Charon which aim to link networks of people who share their home or work wireless access for free, with the recipricol benefit of being able to access that of others.

"If these projects have correctly identified there being a huge number of users who would willingly open up their internet access if they could recover their costs and not place their own networks at risk," wrote the reader.

"Cities could wind up ... well, maybe not blanketed, but certainly enthusiastically spattered with Wi-Fi coverage open to all comers."

What these varied comments illustrate is the propensity for what your writer would call the Darwin-style evolution of technology.

The Fon and Charon projects are examples of users anarchically using existing technology in a way that the makers simply did not envisage, while Airspan is taking a different path and trying to "breed" new Wi-Fi strains.

Perhaps the most worrying development for Azure and other hotspot operators is that PC vendors like Lenovo and Dell are taking one of those new strains -- 3G broadband -- and running with it.

Both vendors have signalled their intention in Australia to embed 3G broadband access cards into laptops.

As far as the Queen Street network goes ... maybe some Wi-Fi networks are doomed to go the way of the dinosaurs?

What do you think about the continuing evolution of Wi-Fi? What protocols or networks do you depend on? Send your thoughts to renai.lemay@zdnet.com.au.

For more views from the trenches of Australian telecommunications, visit my blog:
Full Duplex
http://www.zdnet.com.au/blogs/fullduplex

Topics: Dell, Mobility, Networking, Wi-Fi

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