Executives from major suppliers and mobile operators have predicted that wireless broadband networks will play a much larger role in the home and office.
Speaking at the Telecom World 2003 conference and exhibition in Geneva, Irwin Jacobs, chairman and chief executive officer of Qualcomm, played down the impact of wireless Lan (WLan) networks on 3G mobile broadband networks.
Mobile operators will pursue a "collaborative" approach, using public WLans to extend high-speed mobile data services in areas where they lack coverage, Jacobs said.
Several mobile operators have already signalled their intent to provide bundled 3G and WLan services, he added.
As for "standalone" hotspots not linked to a mobile operator or other larger service provider, Jacobs said he does not see "a very good business case". WLan technology, based on the 802.11 standard will be deployed mostly in homes and campus networks, he said.
Jean-Pierre Bienaimé, chairman of the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) Forum, called public WLan service a niche market. The UMTS is an association mostly representing the interests of 3G technology suppliers.
Earlier in the week, Arun Sarin, chief executive officer of Vodafone Group, referred to WLan technology as "complementary" to 3G, pointing out that the company intends to offer PC cards and other terminals that bundle not only 3G and WLan, but also "2.5" technology, based on GPRS.
Meanwhile, hotspots in a wide variety of locations, from hotels and train stations to restaurants and bars, continue to sprout up around the world, according to Brian Grimm, a spokesman for the Wi-Fi Alliance, which certifies equipment based on the 802.11 standard.
The group's Wi-Fi Zone programme, which provides an online directory of hotspots operating with certified equipment, has more than 6,000 public access service locations.
John Blau writes for IDG News Service