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« Intel's Mistake: Mobile WiMax Too Late | Main | Voice a WiMax Necessity »

January 27, 2005

Remote Irish Town Gets Trial

By Nancy Gohring

Mobile phone operator O2 is conducting a fixed broadband wireless trial in a remote town in Ireland. “What we wanted to do was to see precisely what WiMax was likely to be able to deliver,” said Pat O’Connell, who works in O2 Ireland’s broadband group and is responsible for the trial.

O2 choose Gleann Cholm Cille, a remote and hilly town in county Donegal in the northwest of Ireland for the test. Using one BreezeMax 3500 base station from Alvarion, which hangs on an existing site that O2 uses for its mobile network, O2 is serving 16 customers. Oideas Gael, an Irish language school, is one of the users and was particularly interested in broadband access for its video conferencing and distance learning potential. Currently, ISDN would be the school’s only other higher speed option.

Siemens, an Alvarion agent in Ireland, and Alvarion are also involved with the trial. Alvarion recommends its BreezeMax platform to operators that hope to migrate to certified WiMax networks.

This type of trial is not unique for O2, which runs such tests in an effort to “measure the capability of the technology against the hype,” O’Connell said. O2 is interested in technologies that can deliver data services to its customers and doesn’t see WiMax as a competitor to its mobile offerings.

“Mobile WiMax is years away,” he noted. O’Connell doesn’t expect the technology to be ready for three to four years. In the meantime, operators like O2 will be busy building out their 3G networks.

The trial has been going for three months and O’Connell expects to keep it going for at least another month. The service has had some ups and downs. O’Connell was pleasantly surprised by one capability. “We’ve found that we can give coverage where we can bounce signals off mountains. We can get coverage in the shadow of the mountain,” he said.

But the west coast of Ireland was recently hit with particularly heavy winds, some gusting over 100 miles per hour, and the antenna was actually blown off its mast. The service was down for two weeks after the damage. “That’s an interesting lesson as well. One of the purposes of these trials is to see what sort quality of service you can give,” O’Connell noted. “The economics based on the technology is determined by how robust this equipment needs to be.”

While O’Connell has been generally pleased with the trial so far, he’s skeptical of the near term potential for WiMax. He calls recent news that the certification process for WiMax has been delayed “worrisome.” “Anything that delays the availability of reasonably priced customer premise equipment is obviously going to call into question the commercial viability of the service,” he said.

He suspects that WiMax may follow a similar road as Wi-Fi. “I’m skeptical personally, this isn’t the company view, about the takeup of WiMax, given the experience we’ve had to date with Wi-Fi,” he said. He notes that the takeup for Wi-Fi significantly increased once Wi-Fi was being built into laptops. “Now we see the takeup of Wi-Fi has increased all right but it’s probably a couple years behind the forecasts that people originally had,” he said. “I think it’s not inconceivable that we’ll see the same thing with WiMax.”

Until it becomes clear that low-cost, easily installable customer premise equipment is available, he suspects progress for WiMax will be slow. “I don’t think you’ll get huge rollouts of capitally expensive networks on a speculative basis,” O’Connell said.

Posted by nancyg at January 27, 2005 11:55 AM

Categories: rural applications

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