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June 12, 2003

Jeffrey Belk of Qualcomm's New Commentary and Rebuttal

I feel truly fortunate today to present a long and detailed follow-up from Jeffrey Belk, the vice president of marketing at Qualcomm, to his original post heard-round-the-Wi-Fi world about his experiences with Wi-Fi, and contrasting that to cell data technology in part developed by his company.

Qualcomm distributed his notes to analysts and reporters, and I wound up writing an extensive rebuttal to parts of his commentary because I felt he had set up some artificial issues. Belk responds to my concerns, and from reading his lengthy reply (in three parts, yet), I am definitely on more common ground with him than I originally believed.

I'll let him speak for himself here, and will write a very very short follow-up on a couple of minor points he makes in his rebuttal to my response.

(I suppose it goes without saying that we're living in a remarkable time when we can develop this sort of a dialog on a Web site: Belk may be a marketing VP, but this set of exchanges is something akin to a Cluetrain excursion in which we're all listening to each other and responding without the kind of intermediation which distorts technology and points of view.)

Adventures in the Hotspot World -- Part II

Jeffrey Belk, Senior Vice President, Marketing, QUALCOMM Incorporated

This document is a follow up to my Adventures in Wi-Fi piece which I wrote at the end of May, 2003. That piece got much more attention than I had originally expected, from Australia to Austria, and several detailed responses, one of which was by Glenn Fleishman, detailed on his website . I've also attached the "Part I" PDF for folks new to this dialog. For complete context of this discussion, including lots of "point/counterpoint", you may want to visit Alan Reiter's Weblog.

This document is divided into three parts. First, an "access travelogue" of my recent trip to Dallas and Atlanta. The second part contains viewpoints on how this discussion shapes up in terms of Wireless Coverage, Performance, and Cost. In the final section of this document, I'll "back up" and detail my comments on Glenn's well written rebuttal to my "strawmen" from my first document.

1: The USA

I left San Diego on June 1, 2003 for the Sprint PCS Business User's Conference in Dallas, and then flew to Atlanta to be on a plenary panel at SUPERCOMM on June 4th. What follows is a U.S. equivalent of my European adventures described in "Part I". Since a few folks out there had issues with some of my European foibles, I'm going to make the caveat that if someone is a Wi-Fi connection deity they might get on-line easier than I, and may have been able to steal someone's Wi-Fi bandwidth while sitting outside of an urban building, but I've gotten dozens of commiserating responses to my mails, and only one accused me of being technically inept ("It also appears Mr. Belk clearly does not understand the current available forms of authentication for HSIA hotspots". Uh huh. And the point?). This prompts my additional caveat that connecting to various Wi-Fi schemes will no doubt get much easier as time goes on. With these caveats, hopefully I will receive less mail to answer this time, because I also have a day job at QUALCOMM ;- ).

But I'll counter with the additional fact that the Sierra Wireless PCMCIA CDMA2000 1x card installed in my IBM ThinkPad has a connection "watcher", which fires up on your desktop when you start your laptop. To connect to the Wireless WAN, you click on "connect", and the card will authenticate and put you on line in less than 10 seconds. And you stay connected until you choose to disconnect. That's it. Every time. Everyplace you can make a phone call with Sprint PCS, and most places across great swaths of the U.S. where you can make a phone call on Verizon Wireless [I'm not saying whose card I have in my laptop ;- ) ]. For $80 / month for unlimited Wireless WAN data access, wherever, whenever, and for as long as you need to connect.

My access alternatives for my travels the week of June 1st, 2003 are summarized in this table. Maybe you see a pattern below:

[Click to see full-size chart]

Note 1*: Literature in the Wyndham hotel rooms state that the Wyndham Anatole is undergoing significant renovation and that high-speed Internet access will be installed in rooms. No details on whether Wi-Fi or wired, no details on cost. Looking at Wyndham literature, they tend to have better connectivity options than most hotel chains. Plus, I've always like their hotels.

Note 2*: Wish I had a digital camera along to show folks what I mean on both this note and the next note. Almost ALL of the payphones are gone from the Atlanta Congress Center, leaving blank walls of payphone bank divider slots with only an occasional payphone left on the wall. Please ask yourself why they are gone if traveling to a location to access (voice) data is such a good thing. Maybe analogous to why hitching posts and water troughs are gone from urban streets today.

Note 3*: In several of the common areas, there were PC's with Free Internet Access. There were about 10-15 PCs in each location, with smoked glass around the PCs. Folks came from all over the Atlanta Congress Center and waited outside in line to get access, to get the opportunity to stand in a small area and use a PC. Watching folks in these smoked glass rooms, someone commented that it looked like a visiting room in a Jail.

Note 4*: Although most of our conversation has been about laptops, I've alluded to the fact that PDAs play into the equation. In Dallas, I never left the hotel. Sprint PCS and my folks kept me busy. However, in Atlanta, my meetings and speech kept me going until 7 p.m. I had to check email (4 p.m. San Diego time), but also had to get to my 8 p.m. dinner reservation (this ever happen to anyone out there?). So, I did browser-based email on my Handspring Treo for about 20 minutes in the cab to the restaurant. Also (unfortunately) had to check mail briefly during dinner. Check your carrier's website, many have aggressive and cost effective plans for Phones/PDA's for email and internet access.

Note 5*: Same thing. Check email on Treo on way to airport. And made use of the 20 min. on the plane before they closed the door and asked everyone to turn their devices off.

Note 6*: Picked up Wayport signal. I asked two folks at the Crown Room about Wayport. They stated that although there is a signal, they do not offer the service yet. For fun, did multiple runs on a speed test site for my CDMA2000 1x Wireless WAN Card. 75, 77, and 102 kbps respectively. When I then checked Wayport's website for more details (via CDMA2000 1x connection), they show good coverage of DFW for $6.95 per use, not related to the club specifically, which is why the Club staff probably had no clue. T-Mobile's plans range from $0.10/minute (60 minute minimum), to $29.95/month for a 12-month contract, to $39.95/month by month.

Note 7*: The Hotspot provider in Convention Center was CCLD, Convention Center Long Distance. Charge of $9.95/day. However, their coverage map is just for the common areas of the convention center, not the convention hall itself. If you read [URL], you will understand some of the issues.

One quote is "CCLD is really interested in installing wireless to the convention floor. However, there are some issues to address."

"We have some concerns with frequency interference issues on the show floor, particularly when exhibitors bring their own wireless systems," Harris said. "We've not quite worked out what to do when an exhibitor complains the next booth's wireless microphone is interfering with them. We can solve one problem easily, but our shows are huge."

So again, they have built a for-profit system that folks can either opt to use, or can use free hotspots if paid for available (i.e. paid for by an exhibitor), or can install (Per FCC Part 15 rules allowing unlicensed spectrum users to interfere with one another) their own Wi-Fi system on the show floor. Or they can use the Wireless WAN provider of their choosing.

Note 8*: Publicized free Hotspots. I'm sure folks out there have 'warchalked' some of these cities/ locations along the way, but in my opinion 'warchalking' and/or stealing of bandwidth is not a sustainable platform for the broad and commonplace adoption of any technology.

2: Coverage, Cost, Performance

Learning: Coverage

In Dallas I participated with Sprint PCS folks in several panel discussions to groups of IT executives that attended the Sprint PCS "Business User Conference." Sharing the panel was Oliver Valente, CTO of Sprint PCS. I'll get to some of Sprint's comments in a second.

In my talk, discussion inevitably got to Wi-Fi. I asked two questions of 200+ IT Executives who attended the sessions over the course of two days. Question One: "Have you installed any form of 802.11 in your company?" My guess is that 80-85% of the hands in each session went up. Question Two: "Do any of your corporate campus Access Points have a coverage range or coverage radius of 300 feet?" Not one hand went up. In two days.

When I would state that we used 28 meters (90 feet) as an average for our corporate deployments (almost 200 access points on our corporate campuses for meeting rooms and common areas), there was a lot of nodding of heads up and down (not side to side), but to be fair, one person actually spoke up and said they use 100 feet. No doubt Glenn Fleishman will receive mails from the "we make 802.11b go for miles" folks, but those are mails that I'd like our RF folks to look at, cause if there is something I've learned in 10 years in wireless---it's that RF is difficult, interference is interference, and free lunches are rare.

Oliver Valente and his staff spoke about Sprint PCS's national network. One of the comments was that Sprint had installed 19,830 cell sites across their markets as of April 30, 2003. All are CDMA2000 1x. I asked Oliver about my stated assumption (which I had previously validated with our network folks) that an average suburban cell site has a coverage radius of about 3 miles. He said that was a reasonable assumption (with usual caveats). Remember, I've stated repeatedly that RF is akin to voodoo. It is. I use suburban sites for my "model", since Rural Sites will typically have much larger cell radii, and urban sites typically have much smaller cell radii.

So, lets go back to my metrics from Wi-Fi Adventures Part I to look at coverage:

* 90 ft. x (pi times radius squared) = approximately 25,000 square feet of coverage area for an Access Point

* 3 miles x (pi times radius squared) = approximately 750,000,000 square feet of coverage area for a suburban Cell Site

This is a ratio of about 25,000 to one (actually 30K to one but I won't quibble), and reflects the "approximately 1,000 Wi-Fi access points per square mile of coverage" metric.

So, let's do the following exercise:

* 20,000 cell sites x 25,000 (equivalent access points worth of coverage per cell site) says that Sprint PCS today has equivalent wireless data coverage of about 500,000,000 access points. 500,000,000!

Verizon Wireless would also be in the hundreds of millions of Wi-Fi Access Point equivalents worth of current coverage area, but I'd need to find their public numbers on Cell Sites deployed, and the percentage (ever increasing) that have been upgraded to CDMA2000 1x.

Wayport, Boingo and T-Mobile combined have less than 5,000 Access Points deployed nationwide. Cometa will be adding 20,000 over time. Gartner says there will be an aggregate 103,000 Public Wi-Fi Hotspots by the end of 2006. And each of these access points needs its own individual expensive backhaul.

Both Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless are continuing to add coverage. Sprint described how their plans call for an additional 1700 cell sites in 2003.

So, optimistic projections show 100,000 hotspots for the Public Hotspot Services by the end of 2006, and the case can be made that the two national CDMA2000 operators could have equivalent wireless data coverage are of about 1 billion Wi-Fi Hotspots this year.

1,000,000,000 WWAN Hotspot "equivalent coverage area" vs. 100,000 Wi-Fi Hotspots.

And think about it, even with hundreds of thousands of square miles of Wireless WAN coverage for voice today, there are still places where you get irritated if your voice call does not go through, or a wireless voice call drops. But folks are predicting that everyone will be happy with a hundred or even a few hundred square miles of Wi-Fi Hotspot service access in the 3.4 million square miles of the U.S.?

Learning: Performance

Where there is Wi-Fi, and the choice is made to access the network, and the network is there to access, Wi-Fi is faster than CDMA2000 1x Wireless WAN. I have never disputed that. For the umpteenth time, folks at QUALCOMM all happily use Wi-Fi on our almost 200 access points on our corporate campuses hooked to our internal IT infrastructure, and we use Wi-Fi on our many personal systems at home (over DSL or cable modems). Wi-Fi in the office and home is growing, and Wi-Fi in the office and home will continue to grow at healthy rates. When I've been testing around the world in the past weeks, Wi-Fi access has typically been in the 400kbps to 1.2 mpbs range, with a midrange of 600-700kbps. Just my personal experience as one end user, not formal testing. Your experiences may vary ;- )

By the same token, when I've tested CDMA2000 recently, my results have been in the 40-105kbps range (without any compression), with typical performance being in the 70-80kbps range (including the downloading of a 10MB PowerPoint file).

In the ancient, pre-CDMA2000 1x days (last year), when I would still use dialup, crawling under dusty hotel desks, I NEVER got 56kbps off my 56kbps dialup modem. My midrange experience would be about 35-42kbps. In some places in the world, I'd be happy getting 9.6 kbps, but in the U.S., typically 35-42kbps. So?

* CDMA2000 1x = 1.5-2x dialup speeds almost everywhere
* Wi-Fi Hotspot = 20-30x dialup speeds in limited locations
* Wi-Fi Hotspot = 7-15x CDMA2000 speeds in limited Hotspot locations

But there is a twist to this story as well. And I'm looking into the future, which is something I haven't done very much of in these dialogs. Wi-Fi centric service folks talk a lot about their world view circa year end-2006. That's where the 103,000 2006 Gartner Hotspot projection comes from.

CDMA2000 1xEV (there are varying flavors, I won't get into details here, but feel free to visit, or for info on the standards), are delivering 300-500kpbs in early commercial implementations around the world. Verizon Wireless will be launching CDMA2000 1xEV in Washington DC and San Diego in 2003.

Not to speak for any carrier, but several carriers are examining 1xEV technologies. And it is our hope that one or more of the Wireless WAN carriers deploys 1xEV nationally before the end of 2006 (hopefully a lot before!). So, assume there is one or more national 1xEV carriers (again, purely a hypothetical at this point!):

* CDMA2000 = 1.5-2.5x dialup speeds (almost everywhere)
* Wi-Fi Hotspot = 20-30x dialup speeds (in limited locations)
* Wi-Fi Hotspot = 7-10x CDMA2000 1x speeds (in limited locations)

* CDMA2000 1xEV = 8-15x Dialup speeds (almost everywhere)
* Wi-Fi Hotspot = 1.5-2x CDMA2000 1xEV speeds (in relatively few locations)

1xEV changes the performance differential between Wi-Fi and Wireless WAN in ways that will begin to become apparent before the end of this year. However, this is not a "futures" issue. CDMA2000 1x TODAY provides a user experience that is faster than what folks get via dialup, and consistent over huge coverage areas. Where there is free access to Wi-Fi (like IBM's free hotspot at SUPERCOMM) folks probably would use the Wi-Fi if they have Wi-Fi embedded in their device, and if they can configure to the network. But if you wanted broader access in the convention halls of SUPERCOMM Atlanta, it would have cost you the $9.95 per day from CCLD (see Note 7 on the access chart above). And that leads to the "Cost" question.

Learning: Cost

Contrary to one of Glenn's comments to my original document, the $80 I describe for the "all you can eat" CDMA2000 1x Wireless WAN data plans for Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless are not "QUALCOMM's company rate". These rates are available to anyone. Almost anywhere. Check their web sites.

For CDMA2000 1x enabled PDAs such as the Handspring (nee Palm?) Treo, or the new Samsung devices, or the Kyocera 7135 Smartphone, there are various plans and services that allow high levels of voice calling plus data access for your PDA at rates not that different from the voice only plans.

For WWAN PCMCIA Cards to install in laptops, the prices are coming down from multiple vendors, and both operators have more aggressive pricing to get more cards out. Go take a look.

Would we all like pricing to be lower at some point? Sure. But it seems very inconsistent to give the carriers a hard time for $80 all-you-can-eat national data access over the equivalent of hundreds of millions of access points of coverage area, and billions of dollars of investment in wireless infrastructure, when the Wi-Fi access points can cost a user $10/day for one place at one time. Hotel $10. Coffee shop $6-10. Convention Center $10. Next day at the Hotel $10. Etcetera. WISP $39.99/month for coffee shops and book stores.

Other rebuttals have spoken to the relative cost of installing Wi-Fi vs. the cost of installing cell sites. In the case of the CDMA2000 1x operators, this rebuttal does not fly. Why? The cell sites of the Wireless WAN networks are ALREADY THERE. There are tens of thousands of cell sites in the United States, deployed, in commercial operation. And the Carriers already own their spectrum, and folks are not allowed to interfere with that spectrum---a clear differentiation from Wi-Fi's FCC Part 15 spectrum that I'll touch upon a bit further along.

3: Rebuttal to Glenn Fleishman

Lifestyle, Economics, Performance---my Responses to Glenn Fleishman

Alot of the rebuttals to my original mail included statements along the lines of Wi-Fi networks will have aggressive monthly subscription prices, and that folks are willing to move/travel to specific Hotspot locations for access. Although folks are using, and will be using Hotspot services in increasing numbers (it's gotta go up from the tens of thousands subscribed nationally today), I have a hard time seeing high levels of Hotspot service subscriber adoption, for business and technical reasons, predicated on individual's lifestyles, economic tolerances, and performance needs. Even with Wi-Fi embedded in an increasing number of devices, the service adoption rates and subscription levels being described in various announcements and white papers often test credibility.

Glenn Fleishman has several quotes along these lines:

"Most US hotels use a simple gateway page, or use a room-based authentication. Most are also not expensive, and most are part of networks"

"However, Belk isn't at the point where the Wi-Fi networks are broad enough that he would have had a flat monthly subscription (at probably $50 per month) that would have allowed him a "free" connection to the hotel at probably T-1 (1.5mbps) speeds."

I have problems with this approach on a few levels. First, $9.95 a day in one location being specified as "not expensive" is just as subjective as classifying $80/month as expensive. It comes down to an individual's usage patterns, their pricing elasticity for services, the applications they are using, and their personal convenience metrics.

And it's not just $9.95 a day. If I'm at a convention in Atlanta that is not a SUPERCOMM convention with IBM giving away service (with a live tech support person at the Hotspot location to help everyone out, not a costless exercise for IBM), then I'm paying $9.95 a day for wired Ethernet in the hotel, and $9.95 a day for Wireless Ethernet in the convention center common areas (from CCLD). And if there is service in the Airport lounge, it will be a third provider, meaning a third subscription or a third daily charge. I could easily pay $50 or more for three days, and have three providers, one wired Ethernet, and one Wireless Ethernet to deal with. If I'm shipping big files around, or have the need for true broadband or multi-media, I will need the faster access, but I would posit for millions of mobile professionals, CDMA2000 1x in flat monthly rate plan would fill most needs. Don't believe me, go try it!

Glenn states that I confuse ubiquity with utility. He states:

"Ubiquities advantage fades in direct proportion to its speed relative to nearby faster service at a comparable price" If I can get 80kbps for $80 per month everywhere, but find myself within short walks (or on top of) 1mbps for $50 per month in certain places, the right answer might be a subscription to both services"

This also has a few assumptions, many of which I think we may agree upon. Ultimately it will be in the operator's and user's interest to find ways of optimizing both Utility and Ubiquity. But the "short walk" is a personal preference, one that neither Glenn nor I can answer for the folks reading this or the world at large. I want ubiquity, Glenn will walk for Utility. Personal Choice. But there is a third dimension that I believe impacts this choice---what are you doing with the bandwidth???

Caveat---A model follows. This is a test. Just a test. PhD's relax. Assume 640kbps from a Wi-Fi Hotspot. That's 80KB per second. In 60 Seconds you can theoretically ship 4.8 MB. In an hour, you can ship about 280MB (2.2 gigabits).

On CDMA2000 1x assume 80kbps (you can assume higher or lower, I'm using 80 'cause I'm not a PhD, and it makes the math easy). That's 10KB a second. 600KB per minute. 36MB per hour (and the Sprint PCS guys would yell at me that these are raw rates before compression, and that with their network based compression schemes, the user experience could be significantly higher).

T-Mobile has stated often that their average Hotspot subscriber session is 45-50 minutes. I informally track my sessions, and for my own personal experience that's a pretty good number for "sit down" email / web sessions, plus or minus one hour of access per session. For me, VPN email, web browsing etc., for that hour I will typically use about 6-10 MB of data traffic, of which 80-85% or so of the traffic will be on the downlink, and 15-20% of the traffic will be on the uplink. So I'm not stressing the network, my user experience meets my expectations. I had to download a 10MB Powerpoint(tm) on this trip. It took about 18 minutes. That's probably the boundary of my personal usability threshold. But it works, and works well. Everywhere. If I could have gotten Wi-Fi easily, I might have paid the 10 bucks for that session, and if I had been on Wi-Fi, my email and browsing would have been faster. But that's my own personal price elasticity, and the knowledge that our accountants would probably not have squawked at the extra 10 bucks on my expense report.

The extreme examples here would be if you are Instant Messaging, no way do you need a Wi-Fi connection, and if you are streaming in high resolution video, or downloading MP3's, CDMA2000 1x will not provide the same experience. If you are a student with Wi-Fi on campus for free, your favorite coffee shop with free/cheap access, and your off-campus house with Wi-Fi backhauled to your $40/month cable modem, you probably don't need a separate CDMA2000 1x Wireless WAN subscription (although you have or will probably soon have a color multimedia handset which does lots of cool wireless data services). If you are business person dealing with the access experience chart at the top of this document, wanting constant access to email and the internet, Wi-Fi, or Wi-Fi + Wired Ethernet is not as convenient or usable as CDMA2000 1x.

In this view, I agree with Glenn, as my views reflected my personal experiences. Folks go to McDonalds, Starbucks, etc by the millions. Some will use Wi-Fi there. Some will travel to use Wi-Fi there. But if our payphone to cell phone behavior migration is any indication, over time I believe more folks will just want to do their basic connectivity from "anywhere".

Glenn states "Keep speed low, cost medium, and ubiquity at 11..., and you have 3G service today. Turn ubiquity down and speed moderate to high, and you have Wi-Fi; the cost number might be at all kinds of settings today, but moderate to low tomorrow"

My view, as stated above is that the speed required, and the experience delivered is a function of what the broader universe of users will be doing. But what happens in San Diego and Washington D.C. later this year when CDMA2000 1xEV-DO is deployed and speed is now 50%+ that of Wi-Fi, cost is medium, and "ubiquity at 11"? Worth some thinking...

I stated, "However, folks go to a pub to socialize and drink pints, they go to a bookstore to browse and buy books, and they go to McDonald's to eat". To which Glenn responds "Belk is conflating current behavior with future behavior".

Again there is no distinct answer to this one. I believe that once wireless data in general moves past the "early adopter" phase, the "travel to connect" model will be problematic for a great number of people. Think Payphones. Wireless Payphones. Read the CT-2 section of my prior document. Do a google search on CT-2 Cordless. There were hundreds of thousands of CT-2 "voice" Hotspots deployed by many of the leading wireless operators of the world. Now a memory on Google.

On Hotel Ubiquity Glenn states that "Roaming convergence with single cell/Wi-Fi bill (T-Mobile) or single login/aggregated service (Boingo, ipass, GRIC) is becoming a matter of course, not the exception"

I think we are a very LONG way from useful service aggregation. Useful meaning beyond coffee shops and book stores. We clearly agree on the aggregation of elements of Wireless WAN / Wi-Fi services over time. But in the meantime there are also lots of Wired Ethernet service providers that are in the mix as well, so this is not just a Wi-Fi/WAN question. To simplify this process too much negates the horrible memories many of us have about cell roaming in the early days. And this is worse. Much worse. Why? Well, another "model".

Assume you have six hotel rooms in a row on the second floor of a hotel. All the traveling biz folks have cell phones (a reasonable assumption at this point). One is talking on Verizon Wireless's system. In the next down the hall is someone on his/her T-Mobile phone, the next on ATT Wireless, the next on Sprint PCS, the next on Cingular, and the guy/gal at the end of the hall is doing all his/her long-distance calls on the Hotel phone system (either he/she failed economics, or his/her battery is dead). Think of how long it took for all these carriers to cobble together their roaming agreements and billing technology to the point where all the back end gobbledygook is relatively transparent to the user. A looooong time. Currently, Wi-Fi Hotspot service providers in hotels, airports, convention centers, train stations etc., consist of a broad range of players. These players include independents/"one-offs", lots of smaller regional / target market players, some of which are aligned and/or 'roam out' to various WAN carriers, national independent players, consolidators, and folks who are owned and/or aligned with the national Wireless WAN players. And this does not take into account the various providers of Wired Ethernet pay-for-use services in public environments. None of this seems like it will be inexpensive or user friendly very quickly.

Glenn states under 3G and Unlimited bills that "The finances just don't make sense. If it costs a small fraction of your cost of licensed spectrum and cell towers to build or buy into a national network that offers substantially higher speeds at partner locations, why not preserve that spectrum for higher-cost services"

I'm not sure if his response was in relation to the U.S. or Europe, so I'll answer to both. In the U.S., as I describe above, the cell sites are already there, the spectrum long-since purchased, the CDMA2000 1x systems are already deployed, and the roadmap is there for a (relatively) low cost migration to all those sites providing hundreds of kbps over equivalent area of hundreds of millions of access points via 1xEV. In Western and Eastern Europe, their spectrum for UMTS at 2.1 GHz is clear and ready for innovative services, either stand-alone or in conjunction with public Wi-Fi service providers.

Free Wi-Fi. Glenn describes that "Schlotzky's Deli put in free Wi-Fi in a small number of Texas stores. They said they now have six percent of their customers to those stores coming because of the free Wi-Fi"

In my view there will be a lot of experiments like this, and it is a healthy part of the process. Many universities already offer campus Wi-Fi for students. Libraries and other public spaces are putting out Hotspots. In my opinion however, "free" goods, especially in unlicensed spectrum are ripe for "tragedy of the commons" issues (for non-econ sorts, google the term). Most will be fine. But what happens when the Real Estate office next to the Schlotzky's uses Schlotsky's free Wi-Fi for their office network? Or when the six person accounting office next door to a Wi-Fi enabled coffee shop hijacks the coffee shop's T1 for $39.95 per month (a T1 that the coffee shop is paying $600-$1000 per month for)?

Glenn's comment of "likewise I don't know any early adopter who doesn't check out the locations of local Wi-Fi from Starbucks to community networks to sticking their laptop out of the window before traveling". "High-speed connectivity at broadband speeds not fast modem speeds are now a necessity, not an option, for many travelers. Current 3G can't fulfill that; Wi-Fi is the only option that does."

I agree that is true for early, early adopters of Wi-Fi (far left of the bell curve). My brother-in-law who works for a Wi-Fi wireless network management company is one ( But this goes to personal preference. I want my connectivity wherever I am (as I am an very early adopter of Wireless WAN data services) . Maybe it's because of using the CDMA2000 1x card first, I'm "trained" to be able to connect where "I" want to. Traveling to a "destination" to access data, like I did to use the IBM hotspot at SUPERCOMM, is not my first choice, and I would not have done it if I were not doing my homework for this piece. As to broadband speeds being a necessity, again, it depends on your usage patterns, and the performance needed to meet your personal requirements. 60-80kbps does not limit my utility on the road, nor does it limit the utility of dozens of IT folks I spoke with at the Sprint PCS Business User's conference that are increasing their adoption of Wireless WAN based solutions for their mobile workforce (at the same time as many are building out Wi-Fi on their corporate campuses).

Finally, Airports. Glenn states that "The real closer in this gap is Airports. When we hit the top 35 airports in the country having significant Wi-Fi presence, which I still predict as 25 of them out of 25 by the end of this year, then you'll see business travelers make a massive uptake"

I'd be surprised if there was not ubiquitous coverage today of most/many of the top 35 airports Glenn mentions, by Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS. As for this trip, I looked at Wayport, Boingo and T-Mobile's sites. T-Mobile had Admirals Club coverage in San Diego, DFW, and Atlanta, along with broader coverage at DFW. Wayport had DFW fairly well covered ($6.95 per airport use), and Boingo had DFW fairly well covered. Atlanta and San Diego need work. Will airports get covered with Hotspots? Over time, probably. Ubiquitous coverage in all the airports? Possible, but less probable.

However, there will still be the multiple provider issues, and if there are too many folks with Hotspots, potential interference issues that will impact performance. For example, a Hotspot provider can spend a ton of time, effort, and money getting permission to deploy Wi-Fi in an airport, but then there is nothing to keep the "coffee shop" from having their own access point, but there is nothing to keep the Cinnamon Roll place from popping an access point across the hallway. Or anybody else for that matter. All interfering with one another, and making the experience in use a bit trickier for the masses. Let alone what happens when a commercial microwave oven leaks a bit. Spend some time looking at the FCC web site on rules for Part 15 devices. Remember: RF tricky, Interference, nasty. Take a look at for a few hints (this is the Wi-Fi Allliance web site).

So, I hope I've made the case for a few things. One, coverage matters. Two, the type of applications used matters. And three, a Hotspot service in a location often does not provide a simple user experience, a simple roaming model, or a simple and sustainable business model.

Both Glenn and I agree on a lot of areas. Wi-Fi will grow in Enterprises/Campuses and homes. The Wireless WAN operators will ultimately be more involved in the Wi-Fi Hotspot service model over time, for reasons discussed more in the previous mails. There will be lots of service experimentation from both Wireless WAN and Wi-Fi providers. However, where we disagree will ultimately be determined by individual users, and groups of users with similar and dissimilar lifestyle, economic, and performance demands. That being said, I think this dialog and process is healthy, and I know it's got me thinking in much broader ways. Finally, for many of the readers of this --- go out and trial a Wireless WAN card from Sprint PCS or Verizon Wireless.

5 TrackBacks

Weekend Wi-Fi Tidbits from Rohdesign Weblog on June 13, 2003 8:11 PM

I thought I'd wrap up this week's postings with several Wi-Fi related tidbits I've been collecting here. These vary all over the map but do have the general theme of Wi-Fi. First, my good friend and fellow Palm OS User... Read More

In the never-ending discussion of WiFi compared to CDMA 1x technology, Jeffrey Belk, senior vice president of marketing at Qualcomm has replied to Glenn Fleishman's analysis of Jeffrey's original long document. Glenn, of Wi-Fi Networking News fame, has... Read More

My friend Lorenz Szabo sent along an interesting essay on his wireless adventures in Austria, which he wrote and posted... Read More

I thought I'd wrap up this week's postings with several Wi-Fi related tidbits I've been collecting here. These vary all over the map but do have the general theme of Wi-Fi. First, my good friend and fellow Palm OS User Council Cohort, Michael Ashby rec... Read More

My friend Lorenz Szabo sent along an interesting essay on his wireless adventures in Austria, which he wrote and posted last weekend. Lo has been influenced by several other webloggers like Jeffery Belk, Om Malik, Steve Patriquen and Phillip Torrone, w... Read More


Dear Mr. Belk,
I was relieved to see someone truly cover many of the misconceptions associated with Wi-Fi and its viable uses. Like 1XRTT and EV-DO, Wi-Fi is a valuable tool when used for the appropriate applications. Neither is the panacea for every possible user. As a long time wireless data person, I see the 2 technologies complementing one another, as opposed to competing.
Best Regards,
Rick Youngbar

Great commentary founded in flawed thinking.

The analysis was good but founded in flawed thinking from the beginning. Comparing current cellular coverge and capability to WiFi is ridiculous. WiFi is a young industry and growing very fast - similar to cellular 10 years ago. I would like to see Mr Belk comment about where the WiFi industry will be in 10 years from now and compare and discuss that in two pages of text.

We all know there are constrains on the current business model of WiFi but that is evolving just like the technology and its capabilities. Additionally entrepreneurs are evolving too -- continuing to drive and solve the issues as they arise. Qualcomm should embrace WiFi and realize the future of hybrid networks is upon us and build an "ecotopology" strategy into their business model.

-John Furrier
Palo Alto, California

Belk is missing two very important points here
1) Community Wireless Networking (which he brushes aside with "free" and "warchalking"
2) WiFi/Wi-whatever is going to wait for Ev-DO to catch up in 2006 with current speeds.


I'm going to admit I haven't read Mr Belk's extensive commentary and rebuttal, but from the subject and comments that followed it, I'm pretty confident its the old old argument about the established closed model versus the new open model, and I've read it before.

I read it about the Internet vs proprietary telco networks, I read it about VoIP as opposed to circuit switch, Ethernet vs ATM (in the MAN/WAN), perhaps even HTML vs PDF, but I will eschew VHS vs Betamax example , and on and on.

No, the new will never be the same as the old, nor the open/free (like democracy) as secure/reliable as the closed/proprietary (like benign dictatorship), but thats not to say we can't have both. And we do.

Its not about winners, its about choice, and the options are what gives value.

Mr Belkin's detailed commentary is, admirable, but most significant, despite the potential accusation of "conflict of interest" which I don't make, is the close: "However, where we disagree will ultimately be determined by individual users, and groups of users with similar and dissimilar lifestyle, economic, and performance demands."

Indeed, networking of the people, for the people, by the people... or not, we decide. Making it perfect is complex and expensive, making it good enough isn't, and when its simple and cheap and pervasive, its a commodity. Sure, some will still drive Rolls Royces, which are arguably better than a bicycle... fortunately Rolls Royce didn't own the road, or perhaps that's a choice you mightn't have got to make.

Comparing CDMA 1x and future versions to WiFi Hotspots is like comparing the first IBM PC to IBM mainframes, neither comparison allows for the revolutionary changes that are about to occur.

Of course WiFi has limited range and mistakes were made in fashioning security and other features. 802.11/WiFi was intended as a local area network. But 802.11 is just part of the "wireless revolution" that is being enalbed by semiconductor process and design technolgies that have reached a stage were they can support the rapid development of high speed, mixed signal circuits. In combination with multi-mode implementations, smart targetable antenna array technology, and enhanced QoS WiMAX/802.16 and 802.20 provide a more open platform for development using efficent OFDM/OFDMA/TDD methods.

Equating current experiences of PCS networks that have had billions of dollars and years of deplooyment experience with the early stages of a coming revolution in wireless communications is short sighted and off course in my opinion. Qualcom has become short sighted and off course in their focus on patent hegemony and doce division methods. Too bad they couldn't look outside the box.