Analysis: Will 802.16 e be the end of WiFi

Several analysts suggest that the approval two weeks ago of the IEEE 802.16e standard (mobile WiMax) would offer WiFi a stiff challenge. About 90 percent of laptops are now delivered with built-in support for WiFi wireless; the technology has been adopted in enterprises and the home; and the number of public WiFi hotspots continues to grow. Will the emergence of Mobile WiMax spell the end of this growing acceptance of WiFi?

impasse's CTO Roy Alberts believes that technologies such as mobile WiMax will be competitive with WiFi but that they will not replace hotspots. IPass has just passed the milestone of having 35,000 hotspots. Albert says mobile broadband is a bit late to the wireless party--and he says that 2009 is a more realistic date for the technology becoming widely available than the 2007 date some WiMax advocates suggest. He also emphasizes: "Between now and then, a significant number of mesh Wi-Fi networks will be deployed.... The broader question is if WiMax will be able to compete economically due to the costs of acquiring spectrum and rights of way if metro area WiFi is already established and fairly ubiquitous," Albert claimed.

The same living side-by-side Albert sees for WiFi and mobile WiMax, others see for mobile WiMax and 3G. They argue that as mobile broadband becomes just another available option, users will not have to decide which network technology is right for them. Rather, laptops and handhelds equipped with, say, WiFi, WiMax, 3G, and dial-up would create what Albert calls the "best available network" experience, as the device unobtrusively will choose which network to connect to as the user moves about. Jeff Orr, Proxim Wireless' senior product marketing manager, agrees. "Mobile WiMax won't kill WiFi," Orr predicts. Like Albert, Orr believes mobile WiMax will be just another option, similar to how computers ship with 56K modems, Centrino WiFi, and Ethernet ports.

For more on mobile WiMax
-read Ed Sutherland's commsdesigns analysis