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Telecom industry wakes up to wi-fi tech tremor

New Delhi, Dec. 24: There is a new kid on the block who threatens to take on the two leading technologies—global system for mobile communications (GSM) and code division for multiple access (CDMA). It is code named 802.11b and has a stylish name: Wi-Fi.

The term Wi-Fi is shorthand for wireless fidelity. Wi-Fi covers a set of design rules formally known as 802.11, which were developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a non-profit group.

Nicholas Negroponte, who heads the Media Lab Asia project, predicts that ‘wi-fi’ technology will bring in another revolution in telecom industry. Craig Barret, head of Intel, the company that manufactures computer chips, has identified this technology for developing countries to spiral the broadband growth.

Both of them are betting their money on ‘wi-fi’ technology or 802.11b which refers to a family of wireless local are network (WLAN) specifications.

In India, wi-fi has been allowed under the citizen band worldwide known as industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) band in the range of 2.4-2.4835 gigahertz.

This band does not require any spectrum clearance from the wireless planning commission (WPC).

For immediate use, the government seems to have found the technology with right combination to bridge the digital divide. It has directed that the Vidya Vahini project to connect 60,000 schools with internet and intranet should use the 802.11b technology.

However, the Cellular Operators' Association of India (COAI) is concerned by the development but not alarmed. “It has been termed as a disruptive technology in US that has spoilt the 3G party. It has the potential to emerge as a big technology, but the real strength is yet to be examined. In India, it has to yet establish as a technology,” said T.V Ramachandran, COAI director general.

Recently on a visit to India, Craig Barre,chief of the largest chip manufacturing company Intel, had said developing countries will lead the broadband revolution and in India this revolution will start with technologies like asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) and 802.11b.

Wi-fi operates at up to 11 million bits per second—or about eight times the speed of DSL and cable modems. But today’s wi-fi chips demand more power which makes them unviable to be used in small devices like cellphones.

But companies worldwide are experimenting with special base stations that help to expand the range of wi-fi’s. A few companies in the US are busy developing chips that can allow the operators to carry voice and data traffic on wi-fi networks.

Wi-fi and mobile phone technologies—CDMA and GSM— may be used simultaneously to help the growth of teledensity in India.

Dilip Sahay, the technical expert with the Association of Basic Telecom Operators (ABTO), agrees that this is a possibility.

“The wi-fi technology as on date can offer a maximum coverage of 500 metres but scientist and software engineers are working to develop the necessary equipment that can help to expand the coverage and also to provide access to a switch,” said Sahay.

“Though wi-fi was introduced to remove the wire while roaming in a local area network like university campuses, it is being developed as powerful technology and can be used in rural areas where the mobility is less,” adds Sahay.

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