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The State of Mobile Internet Access

March 10, 2004

By Craig Plunkett

Craig PlunkettIn our last missive to MCA-I’s membership, wintroduced the basics of the mobile world beyond dialup. Since then, there have been some new developments in the technology used, and the market for services. In this update, we try to summarize where things are, how much they cost, and where they might go.

Truman’s Triangle – Fast, Good, Cheap
In the technology biz, we have a concept called Truman’s Triangle (the etymology of it escapes me), but it boils down to a triangle with names for its three points, fast, good, and cheap. You can only have two out of the three at best. In the case of mobile internet access, you the user have to determine what is good for you: constant access, speed, or both.

If you think good is to always have access, then you’re at the mercy of the carriers, and their plans aren’t cheap, on the order of $80/month. They have the coverage, but are also slower than Wi-Fi. Currently you get dialup speeds if you’re lucky. Speed is improving however, as capital investments in cell networks pick back up. You also need a special card, prices of which are running from $150-200.

If good to you is speed, then you’re looking at Wi-Fi, which is also cheap, as cheap as $20.00/month. The big drawback of Wi-Fi is the spottiness of its access. You have to be in an airport, or a hotel, or a coffee shop to get coverage. A fair amount of Wi-Fi spots are free also, and you can’t get any cheaper than that. Plus, you can use the same card that you use with your home wireless network. At a Wi-Fi spot, you generally get at least DSL speeds, sometimes blazingly fast cable modem speeds.

What’s new in Cellular land
Constant access – or as close to it as you’re going to get – is provided by the data services offered by the cell carriers. Woman on cell phoneThis year, a few carriers rolled out new, faster services that are a jumble of acronyms. They’ll all get you connected pretty much wherever you have a cell signal, but speeds will vary according to signal strength and network congestion. The fastest, 1EV-DO, is offered by Verizon Wireless, but only in San Diego and Washington, DC. They say by the summer, major markets will begin to see this service. With 1EV-DO, you can get up to 300Kbps downloads and 100Kpbs uploads. Notice we say up to. Your mileage will certainly vary.

The next fastest is called 1xRTT, and it’s offered by Verizon Wireless, and Sprint. Some folks seem to think that Sprint’s data coverage is better than Verizon’s, but do your own research before ponying up for either of these plans.

The slowest, is an extension of GSM called EDGE, offered by AT&T Wireless (ATTWS), whose future fate is up in the air as of this writing. ATTWS had to deploy EDGE to meet an investment commitment by Japan’s DoCoMo. With the advent of number portability, so many customers have fled ATTWS that it’s now a takeover candidate. CEDX is currently testing a mobile application with EDGE technology, and we’ll keep you up to date on our progress.

The last and least of the bunch is GSM/GPRS, which is offered by T-Mobile and Cingular, who share T-Mobile’s cell towers in New York. That card is $250.00 after rebate and the plan is $30.00/month. Cingular also offers some EDGE services, but not in all coverage areas.

What’s new in Wi-Fi Land

  • New Technology
    Since our Spring extravaganza, the new Wi-Fi standard 802.11G has made its debut. Faster, and backwards Man on laptopcompatible with 802.11B, this is the Wi-Fi choice if you’re making purchasing decisions now. The pricing is just about the same as 802.11B equipment. The net effect of this is if you have a small office, you can now put about 10-25 systems on a single wireless network before performance degrades. Avoid the proprietary extensions like “turbo mode” and stick to the standards. This will make using public access points easier.Talking about public access points always brings up security. On this front, there haven’t been too many substantial developments. Our recommendations still stand on using VPN clients, SSL based web browsing, and SSH mail servers if your ISP offers them. All these technologies use their own security schemes, and don’t rely on the network itself to provide security.
  • New Purchasing Options and more availability
    Cellular carriers are building their own networks, have made alliances with Wi-Fi providers and are bundling this access with your cell phone bill. If you’re a T-Mobile cell customer, you can use the Wi-Fi in Starbucks for $20.00/month, not a bad deal. If you’re a Verizon Wireless customer, you can use Wayport locations for an additional 34.95/month. Wayport spots are mostly in hotels and airports, so you kind of have to pick the kinds of places you frequent before picking a Wi-Fi provider.Aggregators like Boingo have expanded their footprint. Boingo now has about 2,500 spots around the world, and has another 2,500 under contract to be added, so if you’re not into Starbucks, these are the guys to hook up with. At 21.95/month, they’re not a bad deal. Their system also comes with software that helps make it easier to connect to public spots. Boingo doesn’t own a network, it contracts with network providers like CEDX and Wayport so that their users can use our footprints. Check out for more details.Worldwide Dialup Providers like iPass and GRIC have added Wi-Fi to their portfolios by partnering with networks like T-Mobile and Wayport. So if your company subscribes to one of these worldwide providers, you can get both dialup and high speed Wi-Fi together.

    Every day more and more Wi-Fi hotspots are being added, both free and for-fee spots. Sometimes you’ll have to pay, sometimes you won’t, but you can’t beat the speed.

If you don’t believe me, check these other guys
For further reading online, we give you a couple of Blogs that are the last word in mobile connectivity for both Cellheads and Wi-Fi mavens.

  • For the latest in the cellular world
    To get the latest scoop on what’s going on in the cellular world, a good online source to follow is Alan Reiter’s Wireless Data Web Log.
  • For the latest in Wi-Fi world
    Check out Glenn Fleischman’s Wi-Fi Networking News Glenn is the source for all that’s happening in the Wi-Fi industry, on the supply and consumer side.

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Craig Plunkett is CEO of CEDX, a wifi network provider. He can be reached at

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