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Summary:

The New York Times takes a look at the emerging trend of mobile phones with built in Wi-Fi connectivity and concludes that the barbarians are at the gates. Their conclusion is that WiFi could pose challenges to the traditional cell phone carriers. Maybe, maybe not! Instead […]

The New York Times takes a look at the emerging trend of mobile phones with built in Wi-Fi connectivity and concludes that the barbarians are at the gates. Their conclusion is that WiFi could pose challenges to the traditional cell phone carriers. Maybe, maybe not!

Instead of relying on standard cellphone networks, the phones will make use of the anarchic global patchwork of so-called Wi-Fi hotspots. Other models will be able to switch easily between the two modes.

A lot of my good pals are pretty excited about this article, perhaps too excited. The story, looks at the positive side of the trend, but skips over the challenges of today’s Wi-Fi networks and consumer ability to use them as conduits for voice. These challenges, are likely to be around for sometime, despite what the folks from T-Mobile might have to say.

Later this year, T-Mobile plans to test a service that will allow its subscribers to switch seamlessly between connections to cellular towers and Wi-Fi hotspots, including those in homes and the more than 7,000 it controls in Starbucks outlets, airports and other locations, according to analysts with knowledge of the plans

Except, if you try to log on to the T-Mobile network, you have to jump through the hoops on a web page, which is temperamental at very best. Unless you have two of the T-Mobile’s Windows Mobile handsets – MDA and SDA – you cannot easily log on the the T-Mobile network.

I have tried it with Nokia N93, Nokia E61 and Nokia 9300i. It is a problem that occurs on other non-PC devices as well. Good luck entering your username and password information on a mobile phone browser. And even if you do, something strange will always happen making you repeat the process. And when you somehow overcome these problems, then try making a VoIP phone call. It would be a good way to convince your mother that you are an astronaut.

One of the reasons I ended up buying an E61 was because it boasted WiFi and VoIP in one device. WiFi is nifty when surfing the web or checking email, but VoIP hasn’t worked…. period. You need special clients from Avaya or Cisco and your company needs to be using their IP-PBX systems. A simple Asterisk system, the kind I am using doesn’t work.

Even the WiFi VoIP only handsets, if you try using them outside the closed WiFi network (inside your home or office) are not that easy to use. Let me be even more blunt: WiFi/VoIP combo today is where the MP3 players were before iPod came along. So unless something as gigantic as “iPod” happens, this is just another complex technology for consumers (not the early adopters) to decipher.

The bottom line is that before WiFi-on-the-mobile becomes a legitimate way of making phone calls, you would find speedier versions of 3G – EVDO Rev A and HSDPA would come to market. The carriers will use the increased capacities to offer some sort of VoIP plans. What happens then?

That should be a topic for another Times story!

  1. Present performance shouldn’t preclude future improvement. Boingo released its authentication stack as an open-source tool, meaning any firm could take that, integrate it, and have a pretty varied method of connecting behind the scenes to many, many different networks. (Of course, Boingo would like those hardware makers to also partner with Boingo to enable the account management and fees for those networks.)

    And T-Mobile has a variety of authentication experiments for devices going on. If you’re a Kodak EasyShare-One camera owner–as feeble as the first version of that Wi-Fi-enabled camera is–you just punch in a T-Mobile HotSpot account name and password in the camera, and it authenticates to T-Mobile locations to upload your pictures.

    Authentication will eventually become something that’s seamless and invisible. Standards have been floating around for years in hopes of finding agreement. But with apparently few independent or large-scale operators of Wi-Fi networks finding pure pay-for-play revenue, it’s tricky to get them to invest money that’s not in the core area.

    (Wayport runs 12,000 locations, but 4,000 are managed for AT&T, and 7,000 are McDonald’s, which are a kind of special deal in which McDonald’s and AT&T pay them money. T-Mobile may make little or break even on hotspots, but they gain ARPU and lifetime customers of voice service. And so on and so on.)

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  2. I think that this is a FACT, WiFi (it includes VoWLAN, as Glenn says) will mark the tendency to follow by TELCO´s y VENDOR´s by the next years

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  3. Glenn,

    future might be very promising but the present is not all that exciting. The future doesn’t preclude the telcos from wifi, much like Dsl. Of course when worried about the problems they might face in 3g they might find ways to compete.

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  4. Fiction: If you believe the carriers will let you run Wifi on your, you’re dreaming.

    Can’t give details but rumours are that carriers want phone manufactures to indicate to them when you switch to Wifi so they can charge you a service fee.

    And of course, you can probably count on not being able to load wallpapers or ringtones via your Wifi connection.

    It’s so stupid, I can’t wait till Wifi is pervasive enough for us to completely bypass carriers. It’s funny – carriers think customers identify with them yet custormers probably identify with the phone manufactures/model more.

    I don’t mind if carriers compete in the Wifi space but they should play fair and not restrict what I should be able to do with my phone.

    Phone manufactures aren’t off the hook either – they simply give in to carrier demands since carriers pay the bills.

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  5. PC-Tel has the technology today and has licensed to the major carriers. It’s their roaming client for voice. It’s got all the bells and whistles (no pun intended) with appropriate QoS software, actually same as Skype, Google, Yahoo… (ie GIPS).

    I’m waiting to see when it comes to market, and how.

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  6. SipMobilePhone is the way to go :)

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  7. CDMA phones with wifi/skype on Metro PCS would rule… you could pay on a month-to-month basis and use wifi while in the office. Around town you could use CDMA but while traveling you could revert back to wifi which wouldn’t be tooooooooo painful.

    I’m NOT a fan of the major carriers. Their 2 year commitments, horrible customer service, and price gauging could use some REAL competition and the more pain they feel the happier I’ll become.

    Kevin

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  8. I’ve had various PDA phones with WiFi for a couple of years. I’ve used the WiFi capabilty maybe 2 or 3 times.

    Why? An always on, automatic, hassle free connection like EDGE or EVDO is much, much easier to use than turning on WiFi, finding a hotspot, associating to it, clicking through their session capture page, and then, what was I doing again?

    I don’t see WiFi on phones becoming anything big, although it’s a nice feature to add, and doesn’t hurt anything.

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  9. It seems the vendors are more interested in pushing the WiFi handsets as entertainment devices – like with the Nokia N80.

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  10. pradyumna sant Saturday, July 29, 2006

    WiFi on Mobiles: FACT

    Consumers want advanced services, WiFi is proliferating, handsets are getting better, operators want to increase ARPU … Win-Win for all parties.

    There are so many possibilities with WiFi plus cellular combination! Of course, WiFi on Mobiles will succeed!

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