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4G is close on the heels of 3G, with "forward-thinking wireless operators who are now working ... to leapfrog expensive and ineffective third generation wireless strategies".

And by this time next year fourth generation wireless services will start rolling out, US analyst firm Visant Strategies, argues.

In a new study, 3G Alternatives: 3G vs. Wi-Fi vs. 4G, Visant forecasts that 4G (i.e IP-based cellular systems) could be deployed as early as mid-2003. These offer lower cost and/or higher perfomance than 3G alternatives, Visant says.

It anticipates that 4G cellular systems will account for 14 per cent of total mobile wireless data revenues in 2007, with 4G carriers winning 50 million subscribers the end of that year. 4G infrastructure sales should reach $5.3 billion annually in 2007.

And now for the squeeze on 3G from the public WLAN end. The effects of WLAN on 3G is hotly disputed among analysts, with - broadbrush generalisation here - Americans playing up the threat, and Europeans focusing on the complementary technology angle.

Visant, despite its provenance, is in the symbiotic camp. Kinda. Predicting that WLAN-enabled hot spots will generate approx. $12bn sales in 2007, it agrees with the consensus view that mobile carrier will account for the lion's share of revenues (60 per cent by its reckoning). The Wi-Fi threat to 3G will be fully realised only when "coupled with existing 2.5G technologies such as GPRS" i.e. making it fast enough to be useful. But as the revenues will go one way or another to the mobile operators, they can feel relaxed.

And there's no need to tear up the 3G business plans just yet, according to hedge-better Visant, in this run-through the maze of mobile technology acronyms.

Despite threats, 3G is expected to show positive results in the long run. For example, subscribers to W-CDMA-based services are expected to reach 90 million by 2007, mainly in Japan and Europe. Still, navigating the long term could prove tricky for 3G suppliers.

Operators are seeking to extend the life and capabilities of existing 2G systems through inexpensive and expensive upgrades to GPRS, EDGE, and cdma2000 1XRTT thus delaying the deployment of 3G solutions such as W-CDMA and cdma2000 1XEV-DO and 1XEV-DV. In the interim, both Wi-Fi and 4G are gaining momentum. ®

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