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How Muni Wi-Fi Could Impact WLANs

What happens when the residential wireless-LAN market, which represents about half of overall WLAN sales, disappears? This is a growing market that is expanding to include voice and video. It's got MIMO. Products are cheap and convenient. And Wi-Fi is not going away. Ever.

In fact, the biggest trend in Wi-Fi in recent years has been a different kind of triple play-the residence, public spaces and the enterprise. But it's that public-space opportunity that threatens the residential market.

Customers install residential WLANs, after all, to distribute broadband around their houses, without the need to install new wiring or even to plug in. The wireless router connects to cable or DSL (OK, even fixed broadband wireless sometimes), and the antenna on the other side brings the Internet to the far corners of the home. But with public-access WLANs entering what will be a paradigm-shifting growth phase, why not use the public WLAN, where available, as the residential WLAN? Dump cable and DSL; put up the client Wi-Fi antenna and off you go. We could even see effective throughput far greater than is likely to be available on cable or DSL anytime soon, and at a much lower price.

This scenario is actually one incarnation of a more important trend. Note how the cell phone has redefined voice communications, moving it from a place to a person. Lots of people now use the cell as their primary or even only phone. So, what happens when mobile broadband becomes a cost-effective, pervasive reality? Will you put a cable or DSL connection in your house, or will you carry this level of connectivity with you wherever you roam? Can't such power be built into your handset (apart, of course, from battery issues)? Why not use an ultrawideband-based wireless personal-area network to interconnect all of those mobile things you carry?

Yes, of course, we could use HSDPA or 1xEV-DO as our mobile broadband vehicle, and perhaps we sometimes will.

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