Tue, Mar 26, 2002 - Page 17 News List

WLAN a 3G alternative

By Annabel Lue  /  STAFF REPORTER

With availability of high-speed wireless connections or third-generation (3G) services expected to be years away, wireless network may have the chance to get a chunk from the market, a telecom industry pundit said yesterday.

"Since 3G service is not expected to be popular until 2005, those that need wireless connections now may turn to wireless local-area networks [WLAN] first," said Sun Min-Cheng (孫民承), a researcher at the Taipei-based Market Intelligence Center.

A wireless local-area network is a data communications system that acts as an alternative to a wired local-area network. By using radio frequency technology, the network transmits and receives data over the air, eliminating the need for wired connections.

In Taiwan, wireless networks are in use at CKS International Airport, Taipei Sungshan Airport and Kaohsiung International Airport and hotels, along with a few coffee shops.

The service enables users to transmit e-mail and browse Web sites via notebooks or personal digital assistants without plugging devices into a wall socket.

For those that want to get online via WLAN, the installation of wireless Internet modules and passwords provided by service operators are needed. Operators have to set up access points -- one about every 100m -- around service areas.

WLAN has lower service fees and higher speeds than 3G, Sun said.

"Compared with the billions of dollars in license fees for 3G, operating WLAN doesn't require any payment to the government, resulting in vastly lower service charges," he said.

On the average, the charge for unlimited access to WLAN services is about NT$500 per month.

WLAN's transmission speed is 11Mb per second, nearly 200 times faster than a dial-up connection and five times faster than a 3G connection, he said.

The market for WLAN is expected to skyrocket.

"We predict that WLAN services will take off within the next two years as technology matures and equipment prices drop," Sun said.

Global WLAN access-point-equipment sales are expected to reach US$3.5 billion in 2005 from US$1.5 billion this year.

By the end of last year there were about 500 locations offering wireless connection aroundTaiwan, and that figure may triple this year, a Market Intelligence Center report said.

Although the application of WLAN and 3G may overlap in some ways, Sun said the two technologies may turn out to be partners rather than rivals.

"WLANs are suitable for those who want to sit down in certain places and use notebook personal computers or personal digital assistants," he said.

Another telecom watcher said that 3G and WLAN have different market positions.

"3G services are designed for truly mobile Internet connection," Market Intelligence Center analyst Su Yu-yi (蘇祐毅) said.

Users that need timely information while on the move will want 3G service.

"3G can be accessed via mobile phones -- other devices such as notebooks or PDAs won't be needed," Su said

Some service providers are considering the use of wireless Internet cards that can detect both 3G and WLAN signals, Su said

When users are outdoors, their devices will connect to 3G networks, and when they enter a location where WLAN service is available the device will seamlessly reconnect itself to the WLAN site.

"Future wireless Internet connections will most probably integrate both 3G and WLAN services," Su said.

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