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The May 14, 2003 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
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Wi-Fi Press: Sense or Nonsense?

The drum beat of reports about the glories of Wi-Fi have increased to such intensity that a backlash was inevitable. Contrary to rumor, Wi-Fi does not cure male pattern baldness nor make teleportation possible. One reader shared a link that expressed the growing weariness with the hype. See to find out about "WiFi Speed Spray", but be sure to bring your sense of humor.

Don't misunderstand our waggish humor here--we are confirmed Wi-Fi users and believe the technology is really wonderful for "cutting the cord". After all, it's what makes possible the Smart Display we've been using and write about elsewhere in this issue. It's just that some of the stated claims for "Wi-Fi" have gotten pretty overblown.

We recently read two articles that helped to put Wi-Fi in perspective. The first, by Tom Nolle in Network Magazine ( ), asks if 802.11 could displace DSL or cable, and concludes it's "more likely that it would augment the two."

The second, by Robert Wells, Managing Director at Lennox Research ( ), analyzes 15 articles from the recent press. It charts "the pundits predictions about Wi-Fi's Future" and shows how they fall all over the map--both about Wi-Fi's potential for profit and its level of disruptiveness as a technology. Wells thus concludes "they definitely can't all be right".

We believe much of this disparity is the result of people using the term "Wi-Fi" very loosely. When they write (or say) "Wi-Fi", some really mean "broadband wireless". Too many writers can't (or don't bother to) distinguish between real Wi-Fi as defined and trademarked by the Wi-Fi Alliance; technologies based on modifications to the 802.11b standard that make them ineligible for interoperability certification; proprietary broadband WMAN technologies; and the coming 802.16 or 802.20 WMAN standards.

Viewed this way, we see justification for categorizing the "broadband anywhere" technologies (which 802.20 aspires to) in the "upper right" of Wells' chart--they are both highly disruptive and have the potential for big profits. If you substitute "wireless broadband" for "Wi-Fi", it would also help understand reports like this one from USA Today on April 17th: "By using Wi-Fi, parts of Iraq could skip the build-out of traditional phone and cable networks altogether."

Is there a phrase that means "wireless broadband" independent of what it's used for, including both WLAN and WMAN, fixed, portable and mobile? Perhaps what we really need is to invent a brief phrase everyone can use for easy reference. How about "WiBro" or "Wi-Broad"? If you have a better idea, or think there's already a short phrase that captures the generic meaning, let us know. We'll print your comments next month and see if its use will grow.