|Topic:||A wireless future–embracing an emerging technology, delivering an emerging hope|
|Title:||Executive Vice President North Europe|
|Organisation:||T-Systems, International Carrier Sales and Solutions|
Jane Baker is the Executive Vice President of the Northern European & UK Region at T-Systems International Carrier Sales and Solutions (ICSS). Jane started her career at Deutsche Telekom Ltd where she assumed a number of roles within the sales organisation. Jane moved to ICSS as the Area Manager for the UK & Ireland and then went on to take over as the Director for the Northern Europe & UK Region. Following her university graduation, Jane relocated to Germany where she went on to set up her own Business English language training courses. Jane later decided to return to the UK and, subsequently, started her career at Deutsche Telekom Ltd. Jane graduated from Oxford Brooks University with a BA Honours Degree in German and Business Tourism.
WiFi, or Wireless Fidelity, common at hotels, airports and coffee shops, is an economically viable option to help developing nations make the leap to worldwide data and voice connectivity. VoIP enabled mobile phones can use hotspots to bypass pricey traditional networks and make inexpensive phone calls worldwide via the Internet. WiMax has greater range, up to 50 kilometres and data capacity than WiFi provides. This means that rural hotspot can be economically connected to the largely urban terminations of the Internet’s backbone networks.
The telecommunications industry is awash with hot new technologies–this is nothing new. Many focus on speed of connectivity, security of connection, or suitability of product, but few focus on the ubiquity of a technology and the global benefit that could be realised following adoption. One such technology that does serve this purpose is WiFi, or Wireless Fidelity. It is the current buzzword and along with other complex solutions, it brings a host of new opportunities for communicating with anyone, anywhere in the world. What does WiFi really offer? On a practical level, it is all well and good for subscribers in Paris or New York, but what does WiFi mean to other, developing, parts of the globe? Are the two scenarios–that of the cosmopolitan, urban metropolis and that of the emerging nation–really compatible? Recent trends in Central and Eastern Europe can give us some hints to what lies ahead for these developing nations. After the fall of the Berlin wall, for instance, Western culture streamed across the old divide to countries whose infrastructures were crumbling. With decrepit legacy, telephony networks not up to speed, the region turned to new wireless technologies to bridge the gap–namely mobile telephony. In a few short years, the face of Central and Eastern Europe changed from one of a doddering traditional grandmother to young, hip and technologically advanced–sometimes even more so than their Western European peers. Africa is quite similar to this with regard to both telephony and Internet connectivity. Today’s landline infrastructure on the continent is even less developed than the communist-era networks of Central and Eastern Europe. In addition, African governments and private companies are shying away from costly, time-consuming and largely ineffective investments in traditional fixed-line networks. However, thanks to wireless communication, covering everything from mobile telephony to WiFi roaming, Africa, along with other developing nations around the world, is poised to make a quantum leap from sporadic telephone service to worldwide connectivity. This is emerging technology in action–a true emergence of hope. Mobile access: driving growth Globally, the wireless age–the infrastructure and the traffic carried over it–is set to boom. Analysts’ figures tell us as much. Between 2002 and 2003, Synergy research recorded a 40 per cent growth in the wireless LAN infrastructure market. Hotels, airports, train stations and coffee shops all got in on the act and introduced wireless hotspots. By 2006, the ‘average revenue per hotspot’ is expected to increase to US$51,700, according to Datamonitor–up from US$37,700 recorded in 2003. That is per hotspot. Clearly, this is big business. It is not just installations that are increasing; it is usage as well. Datamonitor predicts that, come 2005, 10 per cent of all broadband Internet access will be through public or campus WiFi hotspots. The result will be a market that by 2007 will earn more than US$9 billion by serving 35 million people, using 160,000 hotspots. Restrictions to growth? So, if wireless is so large and offers such ubiquitous access, what, then, is the hold up? One factor currently holding back the expansion and usage of wireless and the Internet in some emerging markets is simply the cost of setting it up. If you look at many developing nations, for instance, it is not just a question of strapping wireless capability onto an existing fixed-line infrastructure, because there just is not one in place. To install one would be extremely costly–a World Markets Research Centre study estimates that the cost of broadband circuits in Africa, for instance, can be up to 100 times greater than in developed countries, because connecting to the Internet backbone requires an international circuit as opposed to a local loop. In this case, exorbitant costs definitely suppress demand. The solution, though, does not necessarily lie in a heavy investment in infrastructure in the traditional sense. Kofi Annan recently shed some light on this, in a statement indicating that WiFi and satellite technology are the United Nation’s preferred choice for connecting Africa to the Internet. The result: ISPs are largely investing in wireless solutions. Wireless fidelity: putting networks on fast-forward With the advent of WiFi come a variety of new solutions for growth and development. WiFi hotspots are an economically viable option to help more and more of the world’s population gain access to the Internet and other information services. Although, for the moment, global PC penetration is not huge, hotspots are an advantage for business travellers everywhere. As hotspots pop up in countries across the world, a new problem emerges. The US and Europe are facing it at present; the problem is not availability, but one of compatibility for WiFi roaming. To reach the full potential of hotspots, it is necessary to link hotspots together in compatible clusters. Sophisticated solutions such as wireless LAN roaming platforms have practical applications globally. Wireless LAN roaming effectively links hotspot operators–known as Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs)–and WLAN service providers in different countries. Via this intelligent platform, end users can benefit from hotspots anywhere in the world. Carriers who deploy them gain new sources of revenue and end users gain flexibility. Ultimately, this technology can break down barriers for doing business across the world and help drive economic growth. Adding voice to the equation WLAN platforms might also bring a new generation of voice services. While potential for growth in traditional fixed-line voice may be limited, voice is still the preferred communication medium. Voice over IP (VoIP) is beginning to take off as an alternative to fixed-line communication, but has not yet come into its own. WiFi has the potential to change this scenario, shifting from a data-only application to a multi-purpose, voice included technology. With VoIP enabled mobile phones, end users can bypass the pricey mobile network and make phone calls anywhere in the world via the public Internet. In this case, hotspots will begin to transform from a novelty into a viable global communication solution. Perhaps the main benefit of mixing voice and data over wireless is to make use of a common infrastructure–a significant advantage for developing networks. Not only is a common system for both data and voice traffic generally simpler and less expensive than two separate ones, but the ability to bypass layers of older technology and build a state-of-the-art, cost-effective network is a boon for any emerging market. WiMAX–the ultimate connectivity solution? When introducing any standard for mass adoption, there are many things to consider, including equipment interoperability and deployment time. WiMax, a trade organisation created by leading communications companies, aims to promote an industry-wide standard for the next level of wireless networking, thus eliminating these concerns and creating more broadband access choices. WiMax technology, also known as 802.16a, is a wireless standard offering more range and bandwidth than current WiFi services can provide. WiFi is generally used to connect hotspots in proximity to one another, whereas WiMax is capable of transmitting large volumes of data over distances of up to 50 kilometres. In addition, WiMax maximises coverage, linking thousands of end users from a single base station. It should be kept in mind that bandwidth provided through WiMax is shared between all of the users of the WiMax cell they are using. Due for commercial release in 2005, WiMax will have an impact worldwide in several different environments, from crowded urban centres where build-out is difficult, to suburban areas where subscribers are located far from central broadband facilities. In congested areas, due to shared bandwidth issues, WiMax is unlikely to replace hotspots such as those at airports and convention centres. WiMax could very well be the deciding factor for the future of global wireless Internet connectivity. Despite WiFi’s ability to remotely link laptop users to the World Wide Web, the fact remains that PC usage in many emerging markets is still very low. In the current environment, a simple cyber café with docked computers is a more practical answer for Internet users. However, current infrastructure constraints mean that cyber cafés are by necessity located in cities and often cannot expand into more rural, less developed, areas. WiMax, a longer-distance alternative, eliminates the need for the so-called ‘last mile’. This means that rural hotspot can be economically connected to the largely urban terminations of Internet backbone networks. In this way, the hotspot revolution can truly reach rural communities, bringing the Internet and its benefits with it. In effect, WiMax is a ‘last mile’ replacement for DSL in rural areas that, in some instances, replaces WiFi. Hope from an emerging technology Judging from the recent attention bestowed upon WiFi by organisations such as the United Nations and the plethora of technology trade shows, forums and special interest groups emerging around the world, it is clear that the focus of the coming years will be on harnessing the power of new technologies to benefit society at large. In many respects less developed nations are lucky in that they can leapfrog much Western technology, since they do not have to contend with decrepit, near-obsolete legacy networks and integrate them with newer, more advanced technologies. Wireless provides this opportunity. So is the wireless age set for a global boom? Based on worldwide trends and growth in developing markets, the answer is definitively yes. The world is constantly looking for new business opportunities and wireless connectivity really opens this up. For once, a truly equal playing field is a very real possibility.