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Future evolutions of Wi-Fi and mobile phone systems
The proponents of Wi-Fi are well aware of its limitations and have been taking steps to address them. One such effort led by Intel with the support of many leading players from the Wi-Fi space is the Wireless Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) Forum. The technical standards being developed by the WiMAX Forum include the ability to cover large distances of up to 30 miles, provide seamless handover from one base station to another and assure end-to-end security. In short, they are trying to eliminate the shortcomings of Wi-Fi by replicating many of the features of mobile phone systems while trying to deliver them at a much lower cost. In August 2006, the WiMAX camp got a big boost when one of the leading cellular phone operators in the US, Sprint Nextel, announced that it will be using the WiMAX platform to construct a fourth generation nationwide broadband network.
Wi-Fi equipment vendors are starting to build mesh networking capabilities into their products. Mesh networking connects several individual APs into an interconnected network that can share a backhaul link into the Internet. The sharing of a backhaul connection can reduce the operating costs of large Wi-Fi systems very significantly and make a big difference to the business case of city-wide Wi-Fi systems. Mesh networking also gives the system the ability to respond to isolated equipment failures by re-routing traffic to other paths unaffected by the failure. The WiMAX Forum is also looking into building mesh networking technologies to its standards.
The players in the mobile phone ecosystem are not taking the challenge from Wi-Fi and WiMAX lightly. Where previously they were able to introduce new improvements at their own pace, which is about one refresh cycle per decade, they are now deploying improvements at a much faster rate. These improvements include the launch of mini and micro-sized mobile phone base stations which are much cheaper, lower cost handsets that are more suited for developing markets and the expedited deployment of new technologies such as HSDPA (High-Speed Download Packet Access), the mobile phone's response to criticism that its data rates cannot compete with Wi-Fi.