U.N. Becomes Latest Wi-Fi 'Hotspot'

By Ed Sutherland

June 19, 2003

On June 26, the Wireless Internet Institute think tank will host a one-day conference on 802.11 networking at the United Nations. The topic: world-wide trends in Wi-Fi regulation.

From India to Afghanistan, communities throughout the world are turning to Wi-Fi as an affordable way to bring broadband connections to remote locations. Government rules and red tape have stymied many local wireless efforts. With hopes of breaking the regulatory logjam, government leaders and industry experts will gather at the U.N. to explore "The Wi-Fi Opportunity for Developing Nations."

Intel , known for its Wi-Fi-based Centrino chipset for laptop computers, will send technology chief Pat Gelsinger to kick off the one-day conference to be held June 26 at the U.N. headquarters in New York City. Hosts for the conference are the Wireless Internet Institute (W2i), a private Boston-based wireless think tank, and the United Nations Information and Communication Technologies Task Force. A plenary session will discuss world-wide trends in Wi-Fi regulation and includes case studies of successful wireless applications in developing worlds. Several workshops will also be available.

"W2i has received requests from business organizations and governmental regulatory agencies in several countries" for such a conference, said Daniel Aghion, Executive Director of W2i. "This is a unique opportunity for wireless Internet technology providers to expand their available market from the 500 million users they are presently servicing to the next two billion."

Along with experts from 24 nations, Sriram Viswanathan, Managing Director of of Strategic Investments for Intel Capital will also attend the U.N. get-together. Larry Brilliant, founder of Cometa Networks , a consortium of Intel, IBM and AT&T which hopes to supply the back-end for Wi-Fi hotspots, is also on the guest list. Cisco , Texas Instruments , Agere and Vivato will also send representatives, says Aghion.

Besides the crazy quilt of spectrum allocation rules, the conference will address ways of using under-utilized fiber optics networks, creative placement of transmitters and lack of maintenance or power supply in developing countries.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s participation in the conference "is a good indication of the very positive views that U.S. regulators have about wireless Internet," Aghion says.

While in the U.S., Wi-Fi's popularity is due to greater mobility and access to corporate networks, developing nations focus on fixed long distance and last mile connectivity as solutions to costly wired systems.

Among developing nations, India is leading the way in creating a favorable atmosphere for Wi-Fi.

"Wi-Fi technology, combined with the recent de-licensing of radio spectrum for spread-spectrum packet-based communications in India," allows "wideband connectivity to sparsely populated communities where existing wireless cellular solutions are not commercially viable," said MIT Professor Alex (Sandy) Pentland, a founding director of Media Lab Asia. Along with MIT, a number of high technology companies have established ties with India.

Still, in other countries, such as Vietnam, Brazil and South Africa, governments are not always so supportive of wireless initiatives. "For example, one of the best case studies in Capetown, South Africa, had transmitters confiscated by local authorities," Aghion says.

An analysis and set of recommendations from W2i and the U.N.'s ICT Task Force will be distributed to U.N. countries following the conference. W2i is now preparing workshops inside individual countries for government and Wi-Fi industry representatives.

For more information on "The Wi-Fi Opportunity for Developing Nations," you can go to the W2i .

802.11 Planet Conference The U.N. probably won't let you sit in on everything. So instead join us at the 802.11 Planet Conference & Expo, June 25 - 27, 2003 at the World Trade Center Boston in Boston, MA. We'll have over 90 exhibitors, panel discussions on all the Wi-Fi topics under the sun, and keynotes from big names in the industry.



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