Nortel's Richard Lowe is operating from some strange premises: In this News.com editorial column, he states a variety of unsupported or simply odd conclusions. The article is primarily an attempt to defend cell operators against Google, for whatever reason I can't suppose. There must be some conflict there. The stalking man here is free Wi-Fi. While most municipal projects will not offer much or even any free Wi-Fi, that's the subject Lowe has fixated on.
He suggests that Google and EarthLink are collaborating on the San Francisco municipal Wi-Fi network, which is partly right (they submitted a proposal, but EarthLink will run the network and Google buy service to offer for free). But he notes Google will probably run ads, which the company recently said they would not in the early phases of its Mountain View network, or perhaps ever; this might translate into their SF plan, too. He talks about "combing through ads," which implies he's never used Google, and implies that Google would use interstitials or other invasive mechanisms.
He says that free service would be a lower quality and "less secure," which implies that Google and EarthLink can't operate a secure Wi-Fi network. In fact, Google is planning to offer a free VPN, and EarthLInk has stated several times that they'll use a secure local link (via EAP-TTLS, a secure Wi-Fi/wired authentication technology). The Tropos nodes on EarthLink's networks will communicate via a secured protocol, too, from what I've been told.
Lowe then ventures into an area he clearly hasn't studied or would like to represent outside of what we agree is reality. "Wi-Fi is great for enterprises and municipal hot spots...But Wi-Fi signals travel only several hundred feet. So unless you have hot spots linked across your city, you will not get a constant connection as you travel. You will also have to sign on each time you change hot spots." Woof. I guess he doesn't know what a metro-scale network is: a large, enterprise-like network. He is, instead, writing about free hotspots that might be offered by a city or downtown commerce group.
He notes, "And unlike 3G cellular, Wi-Fi is not built for full mobility." This is true if you measure mobility as "traveling fast." There's fixed service, in which one is always at the same locations; portable or nomadic service, in which you carry an adapter to different locations; and mobile service, often defined as vehicular traffic, as on the FCC's 3G Web site. (The FCC says 144 Kbps in vehicular motion is still 3G! This might be a bit out of date.) Wi-Fi can provide fixed and nomadic service, and mobile service often works up to a decent rate of speed, but requires some cleverness to work at highway speeds. That's a big area of development, and it's one where the cell companies have Wi-Fi beat solid.
This is where we get weird. Lowe defines why 3G is great versus Wi-Fi. "It offers ubiquitous coverage, traditional phone services and advanced Internet Protocol services like instant messaging, picture sharing, mobile video and interactive games. And it does so at greater distances, more securely and with higher quality. Unlike free Wi-Fi, there is no limit to whom or where you can call, e-mail or otherwise communicate with in the cellular world."
I can't argue with ubiquitous coverage, but it's getting harder to define what traditional phone services really means when VoIP is offered by so many major carriers worldwide. The advanced IP services? Don't get me started. Cell operators have walled gardens. When using Wi-Fi, you have the entire Internet at your disposal. The notion that cell operators provide unfettered calling (can't call VoIP numbers via SIP from a cell phone or use Skype) is a laugh, too. And your cell phone can e-mail anyone where free Wi-Fi doesn't allow you to? I don't get that point at all.
Now we get into a misunderstanding of bandwidth. "Wi-Fi simply cannot accommodate growing consumer demand for ubiquitous, immediate device-agnostic content and services delivered in the most simple, entertaining and reliable way." Wi-Fi isn't a delivery mechanism in the way a cell platform is. When he writes that "Wi-Fi" can't accommodate this, he might mean free Wi-Fi, but even so, that implies that spectrum-constrained and service-agreement constrained 3G services will deliver better results than, say, a cheap DSL connection in a cafe. Hard to see that. No YouTube allowed on Verizon, for just one instance.
Lowe doesn't ignore telephony. "The current Google Wi-Fi offer has other limitations as well. For one thing, the "free" phone service primarily works for PC-to-PC calls. Call your friend's cell phone or BlackBerry from your Google Wi-Fi connection, and it will cost you." Right. Again, we're focused on free. And my "free" cell phone service that I pay $100 per month for (for my wife and I) includes 850 minutes of prime time calling. For $100 per month, I could get 5,000 minutes of 2-cent-per-minute calling. So it's a hard comparison.
"Another thing to keep in mind is that most PCs were not designed for phone calls. Most PC and laptop speakers, as well as microphones, do not provide the level of voice quality we've come to expect from our phone service. Moreover, laptops aren't the most convenient devices to carry around for making phone calls and connecting to the Web on the go." Oh my goodness--would someone tell this man about Treos and smartphones, and how every single handset maker on the planet has or will shortly have dual mode cell/Wi-Fi handset? Stat!
"IMS [a cell network multimedia standard] transforms the Internet from a static document storage and retrieval tool to a more interactive, entertaining and "live" environment with real-time services." Mr. Lowe, by the way, is running Windows 95, otherwise this statement comes from Bizarro world. "Me like multimedia, so me not use Internet to access it."
This man needs our help, not least of which because Nortel builds Wi-Fi and WiMax infrastructure that directly contradicts his entire column.