Meanwhile the service provider oligarchy has been pouring tens of millions of dollars into extending and improving 3G data services: Revision A Evolution-Data Optimized (EV-DO) technology for GSM nets, and Universal Mobile Telecommunications System/High Speed Downlink Packet Access (UMTS/HSDPA) for CDMA networks.
Both groups of carriers are actively working on still faster technologies for "4G" services in the future, which will far surpass Wi-Fi mesh networks (at least until wireless LAN gear based on the 802.11n standard becomes widely deployed).
And there's a booming market in femtocells: in essence, these are small signal boosters that create an optimal, reliable and pervasive cell signal within homes and office buildings.
What may emerge instead of an either-or choice is ultimately a both-and choice, where network providers and municipalities manage to find models that let them exploit the strengths of both 802.11 and cellular wireless networks.
Fat wireless LAN access points vs. thin wireless LAN access pointsThis is one argument that was decisively ended. And then started up again.
Historically, wireless LANs (WLAN) relied on "fat" access points, which handled a wide array of tasks in software, each a separate IP address wired directly into Ethernet switches. All that changed around 2001 with the introduction of the WLAN switch (usually now called a controller) from start-ups such as Airespace, Aruba Wireless Networks and Trapeze Networks.
Most of the access point's functions were shifted to the controller, which incorporated the Ethernet switch. The argument: centralize management, security administration, client handoffs and more. That argument seemed over when Cisco paid almost half a billion dollars to acquire Airespace.
But during the past 12 months, WLAN vendors such as Trapeze have been offloading jobs like data forwarding from the controller back to the access points. The new argument: less load on the controller, no single point of network failure, and reduced network latency and jitter.
In May 2007 a brand new start-up, Aerohive bet the farm on a more radical version of this idea. Areohive distributes all of the controller functions through a mesh of intelligent access points, each with its own IP address. They work cooperatively to do the task formerly done by a separate controller. Aerohive won't dethrone Cisco in the WLAN space anytime soon, but it suggests renewed efforts to distribute specifically wireless intelligence more pervasively through the network.
CDMA vs. GSMThe real problem with the cellular industry is all the blasted acronyms. Basically, you've got different ways of making a cellular voice or data call, with vendors lined up behind both. AT&T, and its Cingular acquisition, and T-Mobile are the major GSM carriers in the United States; with Sprint (which merged with Nextel), Verizon and Virgin Mobile as the chief CDMA carriers. Into the new millennium, their chief competitive tactic has been cutting prices.
But that's changing. Both groups are speeding up their deployment of much faster 3G versions of their cellular radios. For CDMA, that's various "revisions" of EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized), currently Revision A; for GSM, it's UMTS (Universal Mobile Telephone Standard) coupled with HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access).
The peak speeds claimed by the carriers show considerable overlap. The point is they're way faster, and people want faster.
"From the evidence we've seen and the research we've done, there is absolutely a pent-up demand for 3G from enterprises," says Mike O'Malley, director of external marketing for Tellabs, speaking to Network World earlier this year. The company sells mobile wireless equipment to carriers.