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Linda K. Moore, Wireless Technology and Spectrum Demand: Advanced Wireless Services (CRS Report RS20993) (Jan. 22, 2009) (full-text).
Advances in wireless telecommunications technology are converging with Internet technology to foster new generations of applications and services. Presently, the United States and other countries are moving to third-generation (3G) and fourth-generation mobile telephony. The defining feature of these technologies is that transmission speeds are significantly faster than prevailing technology, making it possible to provide services such as high-speed access to the Internet and to receive broadcast television programs.
A related trend is the growth in use of Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) and WiMAX (an industry designation for a specific broadband standard). Wi-Fi uses local wireless networks for high-speed mobile access to the Internet. WiMAX has a broader range of distance. 3G could be described as bringing Internet capabilities to wireless mobile phones; Wi-Fi as providing wireless Internet access for laptop computers; and WiMAX as expanding networks with wireless links to fixed locations. The technologies are seen by some as competing for customers and by others as complementary — providing a broader base and greater choice of devices for wireless communications and networking.
From the perspective of spectrum management, a significant difference in the technologies is that 3G and WiMAX services operate on designated, licensed frequencies, while Wi-Fi shares unlicenced spectrum with other technologies. As the markets for Wi-Fi and WiMAX develop, wireless carriers have become concerned about the competitive impact on their businesses when municipalities offer wireless broadband services.