While it is true that the burgeoning number of Wi-Fi hot spots may reduce the relative advantage wide-area services, the wide-area technology can offer mobile voice and push-to-talk that will not be possible with Wi-Fi, according to Hart. Push-to-talk is a walkie-talkie kind of feature that creates an instant connection between cell phones, removing the need to dial a number or wait for a network connection.
Though speeds can be faster with Wi-Fi depending on the number of people in the network, it may not show up to the end user due to other bottlenecks in the network, Hart added.
Vendors of wide-area wireless technology that competes with UMTS are also jumping into the act.
For example, Qualcomm Inc., is positioning its CDMA (code division multiple access) technology as a wide-area alternative to Wi-Fi. While its CDMA2000 1X technology supports both voice and data services over a standard (1X) CDMA channel, Qualcomm in San Diego, California, has also introduced a data-optimized version of CDMA 2000, called 1xEV-DO (evolution data only) for fast data transfer comparable to cable modems and DSL connections.
Qualcomm's pitch is that without regional or national coverage and limited hot spot availability, Wi-Fi falls short of providing a true enterprise mobility solution. With ubiquitous coverage, 3G (third-generation) CDMA helps users stay connected to their offices, without having to worry whether they are covered by Wi-Fi.
"CDMA and Wi-Fi are two different technologies," said Hart. "CDMA 1x EV-DO can be an alternative to Wi-Fi, provided coverage is good. With Wi-Fi you know you are going to get good bandwidth, and you just have to find the right hot spot." Qualcomm's other technology, CDMA 1X, is too slow to be a good alternative to Wi-Fi, according to Hart.
Although mobile broadband wireless has some technical advantages over Wi-Fi, the ground realities are quite different, particularly with Intel Corp. throwing its weight behind Wi-Fi with an eye to selling more of its Wi-Fi enabled Centrino processors and chipsets, according to analysts.
Intel's aggressive push of Centrino on the client side and the emergence of wireless switching on the infrastructure side are the two major forces transforming the business Wi-Fi market in 2003, according to In-Stat/MDR, a technology market research firm in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Wireless switching architectures shift the management, configuration, and security functions of a Wi-Fi network from the access points (APs) upstream to a centralized switch. About 16 million notebook PCs with embedded Wi-Fi will ship to businesses this year, and by 2005, Wi-Fi will be included in 95 percent of notebooks as a standard feature, according to In-Stat/MDR.