WLAN: Will It Kill 3G the Technology?

VoicenData Bureau
New Update

In the current trend towards attaining any time-anywhere mobility, more and

more corporates worldwide are increasingly moving towards WLAN and WWAN

environments. WLAN, which acts as an alternative to wired LAN, was initially

considered as a competitor to 3G, but today it is seen as its complement.


Does that mean that WLAN poses a threat to 3G? Well, it is a debatable

question. And as expected, the answers vary.

Some believe that 3G and WLAN have different market positions, and 3G

services are designed for truly mobile Internet connection. While others

strongly stand firm in their belief that WLAN and other wireless technologies

can actually help in increasing the revenue and customer satisfaction for the

mobile operators. According to wireless analyst Northstream, the existing mobile

operators are consequently best positioned to take advantage of public WLAN, as

it suits well with their traditional business.

Some of the benefits offered by public WLAN to the mobile operators are:

parts of their existing customer base can be targeted; billing and customer

management can easily be re-used; since mobile operators control transmission

capacity, which means cheaper deployment, etc.


WLAN has lower service fee and higher speeds than 3G. Therefore, analysts

expect that the market for WLAN will skyrocket in the near future, and as

technology matures and equipment prices drop, WLAN services will take off.

According to Northstream, public WLAN is not a 3G killer, but can be a 3G


According to Gartner, public access to WLAN provides a good testbed for

mobile data applications, particularly those targeted at enterprise markets.

With 3G mobile heavily relying on the take-up of data services, it is not only

in the interests of mobile operators but also of the mobile infrastructure

vendors to make sure that early data services are successful, paving the way for


On the flip side, WLAN as compared to 3G is less flexible because the WLAN

WiFi standard (802.11b) provides nomadic access, depending on availability in

multi-locations. Although it does allow for roaming across access points within

the same Ethernet network, the standard does not define an inter- or

cross-network roaming protocol. Since WiFi also shares spectrum with other

devices, including household devices such as microwaves, and as deployment and

usage increases, the spectrum will become increasingly crowded. However, at

present, Wi-Fi alliance is working on 802.11g standard, which is an improvement

over 802.11b, that promises to provide up to 20 Mbps, using the same 2.4 GHz

radio spectrum, thus providing smooth migration from 802.11b networks.


One of the key issues associated with WLAN roaming is the ability to allow

roaming between 3G and WLAN services, which is a ‘must-have’ for seamless

mobility to occur. But not forgetting the fact that WLANs are only available

through limited access points (hot spots), it is important to note that WLAN

service does not allow for truly ubiquitous service. Public access to WLANs

require deployment of certain network capabilities, including access control,

authentication, authorization, and usage accounting. In addition, clearing and

settlement among businesses in the value chain is required.

But it seems that WLAN advantages outweigh its disadvantages, as some of the

leading telcos have already embarked their journey on the WLAN-3G way. In 2002,

Nortel Networks provided integrated solutions for wireless operators for

seamlessly linking the existing and future WWANs and WLANs. Nortel’s

integrated WWAN/WLAN technology solution also provides consolidated billing,

authentication, and security, without the need to restructure the existing

network. In the same year, Lucent Technologies announced the successful seamless

handoff of a wireless data call from a WiFi or WLAN to a 3G UMTS network,

enabling mobile laptop users to browse the Internet while roaming between the

two network types with no interruption in the session. In 2001, Texas-based

Transat Technologies announced a solution for integrating 3G services with WLAN

technology. According to the company, the system could cut network deployment

cost by a factor of ten, and gives cellular operators an additional fast track

route to building a 3G-subscriber base. According to the latest report released

by Gartner, public WLAN services are finally picking up in Asia-Pacific.

According to the report, in at least six major markets–Australia, Hong Kong,

Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan–there is a wider choice of

operators, service coverage is improving rapidly, and pricing has come down to

realistic levels.

According to a UMTS Forum public WLAN will be used by almost 20 percent of

the 3G business users in 2005. Moreover, WLAN market in Asia-Pacific is

projected to grow at a CAGR of 23.5 percent till 2009, according to Frost &


Nishu Rastogi