WLAN and WWAN: How Low Will Prices Go?

In previous editions of Mobile & Wireless UPDATE, I've discussed the various types of available wireless networking options, including carrier wireless WANs (WWANs) and Wi-Fi wireless LANs (WLANs). During the past few weeks, I've noticed a definite improvement in WWAN and WLAN coverage and connectivity. In this edition of Networking UPDATE: Mobile & Wireless Edition, I want to explore some of the wireless-connectivity enhancements that the mobile and wireless industry is experiencing and discuss another trend: the dropping prices of these services. One network enhancement that I'm seeing in the industry is that T-Mobile has begun to offer its HotSpot service in United Red Carpet Clubs. In addition, other wireless carriers (e.g., Verizon Wireless) are continuing to enhance their 2.5G networks with better coverage, such as the recent launch of the 1xRTT service in Denver. Pricing trends are equally interesting. T-Mobile recently reduced the price of its General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) service to $20 per month for unlimited data transfers, assuming you already have a T-Mobile voice service plan priced at $30 per month or higher. So, if you're using Windows Mobile for Pocket PC (which I discussed in the July 16 column), this reasonably priced unlimited data plan--along with the Pocket PC's new always-connected functionality--offers a great way to stay connected for corporate email and Instant Messaging (IM). T-Mobile has also reduced the price of its T-Mobile HotSpot Wi-Fi service to $20 per month for unlimited data, again assuming you have a phone account. In the past, I've been hesitant to pay extra for the Wi-Fi HotSpot service because of a lack of good coverage. However, most Starbucks, Borders Books & Music stores, and (as I mentioned) United Red Carpet Clubs are now offering T-Mobile HotSpot service. Finding an Access Point (AP) to get connected is now fairly easy. For example, I recently had impressive connectivity experiences both in town and out of town. First, as I traveled to and from a couple of meetings across town, I was able to stop at a Starbucks store multiple times to check email and send some important messages. Second, while in transit for the trip out of town, I was able to visit various United Red Carpet Clubs before and after my flights to synchronize email. Increasingly, for short or long trips, I'm able to use these hotspots to stay connected and remain productive. The trend of decreasing costs isn't unique to T-Mobile. In general, we're seeing wireless-connectivity coverage options increase while subscription costs decrease. Will the cost of hotspot services ultimately decrease to the point at which it's free wherever you go? Every time I go into a Starbucks, I buy a coffee, and to get access to the United Red Carpet Clubs, I pay a membership. I foresee a day when these companies will pay the cost of hotspot access so that I continue to drink their coffee and fly their airline. Also, as other companies (e.g., McDonalds) begin to offer cheaper or free Wi-Fi access, other companies and other providers will have no choice but to do the same. Another consideration is WLAN versus WWAN connectivity. Today, WLAN services offer high-bandwidth connectivity but limited coverage, whereas WWAN service typically offers better coverage but lower bandwidth. As the coverage of WLAN hotspots increases and the bandwidth of WWAN connections increases, the differences between the two technologies become less important. For example, the WWAN 1xRTT data service from Verizon or Sprint PCS already has speeds greater than 100Kbps. The 1xRTT service doesn't offer speeds as fast as Wi-Fi, but it provides sufficient speeds for email productivity. The speeds and coverage of all commercial wireless networks will continue to increase while prices continue to decrease, and consumers will reap the benefits. I'm already enjoying the improved connectivity and lower prices. The good news is that both will only get better.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.