Wireless industry analysts predict the 802.11 standard will become an extension of fixed networks rather than a competitor to the broadband third-generation (3G) networks that will be switched on later this year. The 802.11 standard allows wireless connections of about 11 megabits per second and up, via a hub and wireless receivers that connect to personal computers or mobile devices. Existing mobile phone networks in Hong Kong allow data rates of up to about 40 or 50 kilobits per second, while 3G networks are expected to be much faster. In Hong Kong, 802.11 is being used in about 100 'hotspots' operated by Pacific Century CyberWorks, while some hotels, including the Excelsior and the Rosedale in Causeway Bay, have begun installing wireless broadband networks. There are also more than 200 hubs in use as part of the backbone for Hong Kong Broadband, the Internet provider owned by City Telecom. Speakers at the Wireless World conference in Hong Kong this week said the technology would only gain in popularity as more home electronics makers integrated 802.11 receivers in their products and offices installed wireless networks. But the technology can only be used where the hubs have been installed, while the range is limited to several hundred feet. That need for hubs means that coverage will always be limited. 'Our model is completely location-based. It should be fixed with limited mobility,' said Francis Wong Yick-man, chief executive of Infobiz, whose Easylan unit is targeting hotels with a combination of fixed and wireless services. The 900-room Excelsior switched on its Easylan network in early June, with wireline Ethernet connections in the rooms and 802.11b hubs in areas such as restaurants, lounges and business centre. Mr Wong said he did not see 802.11 competing with 3G mobile networks. 'People try to draw comparisons, but basically I see nothing in common. One is mobile, one is fixed. One is voice, one is data. My view is for the time being wireless LAN [local area network] and mobile don't go together,' he said. Although some disagreed, the conclusion from the Wirless World podium was that 802.11 posed little threat to 3G mobile carriers. 'It is a substitute for fixed because it cannot be moved,' said Xu Yan, a Hong Kong University of Science and Technology assistant professor and visiting International Telecommunications Union researcher. Despite this, there are still people in the industry fretting over whether 802.11b, and the next versions of the technology, 802.11a and 802.11g, will disrupt plans that mobile carriers around the world have for their relatively expensive 3G networks. Many at mobile-phone companies and fixed-network providers have yet to decide whether to embrace or ignore the technology. Elsewhere in Asia, a number of fixed-line providers have chosen to extend their networks with 802.11. These include NTT in Japan, Hanaro Telecom and Korea Telecom in Korea, and Chunghwa Telecom in Taiwan. China Netcom has made tentative steps in this area, setting up about 13 hotspots in hotels, airports and similar locations. Singapore has some of the most aggressive 802.11 network projects so far, though the companies behind them are independent firms. Speculation centres on when and how roaming agreements will be worked out between providers of mobile, fixed Internet and 802.11 access. PCCW and Infobiz both target the business traveller and mobile professionals, as companies are often willing to pay more to extend internal networks beyond their offices. A recent report from International Data Corp estimated that the market for services related to this market grew by 138 per cent worldwide last year, to US$3 billion. A major hurdle remaining for the growth of 802.11 and for the business segment in particular is the question of security. Current technology lacks strong encryption and although 802.11g promises stronger encryption it will not arrive until next year. Businesses concerned about the security of their information are advised to set up virtual private networks. PCCW uses a higher level of security only for the logon procedure of its wireless service. Infobiz apportions an individual LAN to each wireless user but, Mr Wong said, 'it's not 100 per cent today, even on our system'.