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November 27, 2006

Term Project Blog #8: Cell Phones & Wi-Fi

The development of Wi-Fi networks as a new form of cell phone coverage is discussed in the New York Times article The Air is Free, and Sometimes So Are The Phone Calls That Borrow It. Companies like Vonage, Skype, and T-Mobile are working to develop this technology. It is not the same service as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) given that using a capable phone, customers simply dial other cell phone users on any network, with the Wi-Fi network acting as their service provider.

This presents several benefits for consumers, but also several issues that could make the service not worth the hassle. First, while the cell phone service is free, locating a strong Wi-Fi signal right when one needs it can be a difficult thing to do. Yet, assuming a network is available, the call is free and the minutes are free, meaning the only investment a cell phone user must make is purchasing the initial phone. Currently, Belkin is offering cell phones with Wi-Fi dialing connectability for $180, a fairly competitive price.

However, the technology is not quite that simple. There are several issues that arise, including spotty coverage (i.e. service), and the concept of "stealing" someone's Wi-Fi bandwidth. While this rising technology could present a wonderful opportunity for all cell-phone users to rid themselves of a "plan" and simply purchase a phone and leave it at that... the availibility of Wi-Fi coverage is chancey at best. When a network IS available, it is often a personal network that really isn't intended for use by passerbys anyhow. Mr. Schaffer was interviewed in the article as someone who recently noticed a user tapping into his wireless network to make phone calls (by seeing them out his window, which is really the only way to know), and he said that he has mixed feelings about it. He would help a friend or a stranger in need, but he wouldn't want just anyone on his network.

We feel that if this technology were able to develop further, and a corporation made an effort to increase the availability of wireless networks across the country, it could become something. If this technology were also used in tandem with current cell phone coverage - allowing the user to choose which network to talk on, it could greatly decrease the cost to consumers as well. Companies would need to figure out a way to charge consumers for the use of a wi-fi network, however - perhaps a flat fixed rate for the availability of the feature. Cell phone service currently only serves one purpose - to make cell phone calls. If Wi-Fi networks were developed, the wireless service could prove useful for cell phone calls, internet access, and potentially even more. The development of the availabiltiy of Wi-Fi would of course come at a cost, but would be worth it in the long run. After all, you get what you pay for - and currently paying for cell phones using wi-fi networks, that isn't much.

Posted by rentsche at November 27, 2006 09:59 AM


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