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WLANs on unique path in China

Posted: 27 Mar 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:china? wlan? top global technology? pda? internet?

China is likely to take a different path toward WLAN proliferation, one that mixes a top-down approach from China's big telecom service providers and a bottoms-up approach from corner store owners trying to make an extra yuan.

Alan Zhou, president of access point system developer Top Global Technology Ltd, described China's nascent WiFi scene as a market set to take off "like wildfire," as much as China's cellular phone market did seven years ago. Zhou spoke at the Motorola Smart Developer Forum last week.

However, the 802.11 adoption is hampered somewhat by the relatively small penetration of notebook computers in China. That may change as Intel Corp. and system vendors push WiFi-enabled Centrino systems, and as a unique set of PDAs that support Internet access through 802.11 communications enter the China market, Zhou said.

Zhou said two of China's largest telecom service operators started building WLAN networks several years ago. China Netcom, which operates a wired telephone network, and China Mobile, one of China's two wireless phone operators, are offering WLAN access in China. China Unicom, which has been busy building a CDMA-based cellular network in China, is now readying its own push into the WiFi market.

China Mobile has a clever method of supporting AAA, the authentication, authorization, and accounting function. A person traveling in China would launch his browser via a 802.11 WiFi hotspot and send China Mobile his mobile telephone number and receive a temporary password to his cellular phone, using the short message service (SMS) format. The password would be plugged into the log-in on the browser, allowing access. The bill for WiFi use would be included with the cellphone charges.

For WiFi access, "it may be like the old days of phone service, where people go to a grocery store and pay five yuan or so (about 80 cents) for enough time to check e-mail or search the Web. I think wireless ISPs could spread like wildfire in China," Zhou said.

Zhou estimates that China has perhaps 2,000 WiFi access points today, with most of those being owned by the large national telecom operators. China Mobile, for example, has perhaps 500,000 to one million customers who use its WiFi access points, he estimated. China Netcom is promoting the use of pre-paid cards, with free trials for early WiFi adopters.

Already, police are using a WiFi system to immediately check the identities of people stopped for various reasons, checking on their background, outstanding tickets, and the like.

- David Lammers

EE Times

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