Rollout of third-gen wireless is great but coverage is a bigger issue than bandwidth

With the rollout of high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) from Rogers Wireless, and the EV-DO service from Bell Mobility and Telus Mobility, third-generation wireless service is finally a reality, to those within range of the service.

What’s ironic is, the issue with wireless access is coverage, rather than bandwidth. When carriers first started announcing their 3G plans in 1999, the aim was to have 384 Kbps of bandwidth available to mobile device users, which would allow VHS quality video, 144 Mbps for those who were travelling in a car and 2 Mbps for fixed locations. By the way, that was all supposed to be in place by 2003.

But there was little demand for transfer rates high enough to support video (please see Next-Generation Wireless, page 16), and the wireless carriers were burning billions in cash just to build their digital PCS networks, subsidize handsets and acquire customers through price wars.

Our feature this issue details some of the 3G services available, and one of the major business markets for wireless data is mobile tracking. But as SeaBoard Group analyst Brian Sharwood points out, most business people use wireless data services for e-mail and exchanging small amounts of data.

Any mobile worker, whether they’re in sales or service, could use wireless data services to check customer information or fill out forms online. But do they need full-motion video? Maybe not, but they may need to transfer large files, which is why EV-DO and HSDPA are useful in some instances.

But workers are not going to find 3G very useful if there are large gaps in the coverage, either indoors or outside.

This is why the ability to roam between cellular 3G and in-building Wi-Fi is important, and the ability to roam to WiMAX would be useful for outdoor workers who are not within range of a tower with HSDPA or EV-DO.

The rollout of 3G is a big step in the right direction, but 3G alone will not provide adequate broadband wireless coverage for business users.

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