Accessing the Internet while away from the home or office has never been easier. When there’s no Wi-Fi available users can jump on 3G broadband to get their online fix. And that’s the way it has generally been, with the two main mobile communications technologies acting as complementary services. But with the advent of Wi-Fi based municipal wireless networks, such as that launched by AT&T in New York’s Times Square and by a well-known supermarket chain across all its stores, some experts say there is a strong possibility that Wi-Fi will compete with the 3G cell phone network in city areas and perhaps even become a substitute.
Wi-Fi offers users network access based on hot-spot connections through a local-area network (LAN), while 3G does so through cell phone masts forming a wide-area network (WAN). Both then provide connectivity to the web, email and other services. In theory, Wi-Fi networks should be at least three times faster than 3G broadband but, as any regular user of both services will tell you, the reality is very different. Because the 3G spectrum is a limited, licensed and therefore more valuable resource it is more efficiently managed than Wi-Fi, which operates on unlicensed spectrum. So when there is a lot of traffic on both, it is usually the Wi-Fi network users that notice it first with slow loading web pages and stuttering video and audio.
Seungjae Shin of Mississippi State University – Meridian and Martin Weiss of the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, have investigated how 3G and Wi-Fi would actually compete for users given a particular set of circumstances, costs, and availability. Their findings demonstrate which of the two technologies would be the winner in terms of market penetration and coverage percentages.