US 802.11 Network in Offing?

NYTimes reports on the discussions between many leading US companies to set up a nationwide wireless network:

The Intel Corporation, I.B.M., ATT Wireless and several other wireless and Internet service providers including Verizon Communications and Cingular are exploring the creation of a company to deploy a network based on the increasingly popular 802.11 wireless data standard, known as WiFi, according to several people close to the talks.

The discussions, which are code-named Project Rainbow and have been going on for the last eight months, envision a nationwide service that would provide on-the-go professionals and other Web surfers a unified way to reach the Internet from a wide range of “hot spots” like airports and other public places. It is not intended to supply broadband connections to customers’ homes, an executive involved in the discussions said.

The rapid emergence of the 802.11 standard has been a remarkable phenomenon that has so far been unplanned and moved forward largely without the backing of major corporate service providers. About 7 million wireless cards were sold last year, a number the technology market research firm IDC expects to grow to 25 million by 2005.

802.11 is a disruptive technology, and if this happens, it can be a big blow to the cellular operators. Interestingly, such a move would further drop prices of 802.11 technologies making it cost-effective for leveraging in emerging markets like India as a primary high-speed data network.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.