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China and Japan are working together to develop what they hope will become a worldwide standard: Both countries have a history of creating and using technologies that are different then the rest of the world, sometimes in hopes of setting a worldwide standard. Last year, the government in China mandated that Wi-Fi gear used in the country use a home-grown security standard. The government later relented. Japan has a history of using proprietary wireless standards, often because the market there is so advanced that it seems operators can’t bear to wait for worldwide standards to be set. This most recent 4G push may be an effort by the countries to try to keep a bigger chunk of potential revenues from the potentially huge future so-called 4G market within their borders, rather then paying European and U.S. companies for intellectual property and gear.
Any 4G technology is almost certain to be based on OFDM. It’s unclear at this early stage how WiMax might fit into a 4G future.
The Seattle Times reports that Clearwire has raised $260 million in a debt offering: That figure could double based on an investors’ option. That’s a decent chunk of change to be used for growing its coverage area.
Companies are digging deep to come up with any sort of announcement at the Intel Developer Forum: Redline proudly brags about using “WiMax” to deliver a live video broadcast from Ontario, Canada to the forum in San Francisco. Redline apparently isnít shy—they don’t even bother to use the term “pre-WiMax”, for what that’s worth, instead, straight-up calling their gear WiMax when not a single piece of WiMax gear exists yet. TowerStream announced that Intel is using its more accurately described wireless broadband network for demos at the forum (The announcement should appear here.)
Intel also briefed journalists on its efforts in the 802.21 group. The standard aims to make it easier to combine radios such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPRS, and GPS in single devices. Intel even showed off a prototype of such a device.
Netgear has made a router that allows Flarion network users to share their connections via Wi-Fi: It’s essentially a Wi-Fi router that uses Flarion for backhaul. A couple of small operators in the U.S. are commercially offering services using Flarion’s technology. A few companies make similar types of routers that allow subscribers to cellular data networks to share connectivity using Wi-Fi.
There are some interesting discussions going on across the blogosphere surrounding software defined radio and regulations: Sascha Meinrath has a couple of warnings. The first is that if a few of the most promising open projects don’t get some sustainable funding, the big companies will corner the market with proprietary solutions. Her second warning is that if regulators around the world don’t recognize the potential of SDR and accommodate for it, people will do it anyway and regulators won’t be able to stop them. The result is what she calls “pirate radio on steroids,” where load of people will be using SDR products that will become available to make at very low costs and that will be basically impossible for regulators to track down and stop. The solution to this problem, she argues, is for regulators to make available enough unlicensed spectrum that SDR fans won’t need to encroach on licensed bands.
Sascha’s piece is interesting next to a piece written by Guy Kewney. He also argues that if regulators don’t deal with software defined radios, people will use them anyway and there won’t be anything the regulators can do to control them. He’s confused a couple of issues here and possibly gotten some facts wrong, but basically he also suggests that Intel is working hard on building software defined radios into chips as a way to accommodate for the different spectrum bands likely to be used for WiMax around the globe. Where Kewney seems to get confused is where he writes about Intel’s efforts to make 2.5 GHz a worldwide standard. If there were a clean worldwide band, software defined radios would be unnecessary. It’s more likely that Intel would be working with regulators to make sure they’ll allow software defined radios so that Intel could easily accommodate for the different spectrum availabilities around the globe.
Software defined radio has huge potential but I fear that Sascha’s first warning may come true. Already, engineers have been talking about and working on software defined radio for many years, and it’s only just begun to get a mention by regulators. The longer regulators take to open up to the idea, the greater the possibility that some huge company will corner the market, slowing down or stopping the great innovative potential of the concept.
Pipex, a spectrum holder in the UK, is set to trial gear from Airspan: The trial should last six months and will test applications including voice over IP. I thought we were a little beyond the twisting of words but apparently not—the companies in their press release call this the “first 802.16-2004 compliant WiMax trial in the UK.” That’s a bit of a moot point seeing as there is no body that aims to assure the industry that equipment is 802.16-2004 compliant. Instead, statements like that only confuse readers into thinking that perhaps this is the first true WiMax compliant trial, but in fact that’s not true either seeing as certification hasn’t even started.
Lenexa, Kansas has plans to deploy a broadband wireless service: The network will be used by city workers and to track city assets like trucks. Alvarion is supplying the network that should cover 30 miles. It looks like this city just decided to avoid any potential hoopla surrounding a municipal network by building one that can only be used by the city. Seems like a potential waste of bandwidth that some residents would otherwise potentially love to dig into.
WiMax isn’t likely to overtake 3G: This seems to be the consensus these days, as it becomes clear that we’ve still got a few years before mobile WiMax and during those few years 3G will continue to progress. The interesting inflection point will come at some time in the future when all the networks morph into OFDM-based technologies.
The WiMax certification process may be a bit behind schedule: It’s hard to know, however, if WiMax Forum members are back peddling or just filling in some details. In April and again in July, the WiMax Forum very clearly in press releases stated that the lab would be open and accepting equipment for certification in July. Now, forum members are saying that in July plugfest began and official certification testing won’t start until October. Many of them are insisting that this isn’t a delay but part of the original plan.
I got a call from the folks at Alvarion last week, offering to explain the process in an effort to clear up this confusion but frankly it’s still not clear if the forum is stretching the truth or if in fact all is still going according to plan. Carlton O’Neal, Alvarion’s vice president of marketing, explained that plugfest started in July. Alvarion is not participating in plugfest and O’Neal suggested that plugfest may not be a very significant activity. “Plugfest is a term that sounds kind of more centralized or more structured than I think it is,” he said. However, he cautioned that because Alvarion isn’t taking part in plugfest, he may not have the best insight.
Clearly, Alvarion doesn’t see much value in taking part in plugfest. “It’s a personal choice for those [vendors] if they want to be there,” O’Neal said. “It doesn’t speed up us being certified or slow it down.”
O’Neal was crystal clear on official certification. “What isn’t going on is certification testing. The reason I know that is because wave one doesn’t start until October,” he said.
Certification happens in two waves. The first is conformance testing, where the equipment is run through a set of tests aimed at concluding that the equipment matches the WiMax version of the 802.16 specification. Equipment that passes wave one moves on to wave two, where it is tested for interoperability against equipment from at least two other vendors.
O’Neal suggested that there may indeed be further uncertainties to the initial wave of certification. While it’s been generally assumed that the first set of equipment to be tested will be FDD in the 3.5 GHz band, he said that recently there has been some buzz over TDD in the 3.5 GHz band being the first type of gear to be tested. Also, he suggested that there actually may be some doubt that equipment from three vendors will be available at the start of certification in order to do the interoperability testing. “The ultimate issue at hand for certification testing, and there’s a certain amount of risk associated with it, is the critical mass of three vendors has to be in the same frequency and the same duplexing scheme,” he said.
As a reminder, in January, the WiMax Forum called on a lot of journalists to try to clarify the schedule after some reactionary stories heralded a setback to the certification process. Around that time, the forum had started talking about doing certification in July, rather than earlier in the year as had been initially planned. But the forum told me and other journalists that the July timeframe had been agreed among members back in early 2004.
Throughout this year I’ve consistently heard either directly from the forum or in official forum press releases that July was to be the start of certification. If the forum considers plugfest to be the start of certification, the forum should have spelled that out, in order to avoid this existing confusion and some potential negative press. Personally, I think that the start of certification means just that—certification, not plugfest.
Heidelberg, Germany is set to get a broadband wireless network starting next week: Details are thin here, but German readers may understand a bit more. An operator known as DBD is targeting towns without DSL. [link via VoIPAction]
Clearwire has about 500 employees, up from around 100 a year ago: Seattle and surrounding suburbs and cities are on the short list to get service next. A reporter at the Puget Sound Business Journal checked out a bunch of online job sites and found ads for Clearwire jobs, deducing the locations of the jobs are likely the locations of the next service launches. [link via Steve Stroh at Broadband Wireless Internet Access/WiMax]
This is big news and lots of people have theories on it: Now that I’ve had a chance to sleep on it, I’m suspicious that Qualcomm knows something about Flarion’s intellectual property that we don’t. I wouldnít be surprised if Flarion turned out to own some piece of IP crucial to WiMax and now Qualcomm has managed to find a way to profit from the entire future of WiMax.
As I mentioned yesterday, with Qualcomm’s history in the wireless world, more operators are likely to consider Flarion’s technology now. Most notably may be Sprint/Nextel. Nextel already trialed a Flarion network and every report I read of that trial described happy customers. With an owner like Qualcomm, Sprint/Nextel may take a harder look at Flarion, especially because combining a Sprint CDMA network and a 2.5 GHz Flarion network just got that much easier.
As Om mentions, this deal also makes Qualcomm the big winner in the 450 MHz space. In Finland, all of the bidders said they’d either use CDMA or Flarion. IPWireless also offers gear in the 450 MHz band.
Qualcomm is buying Flarion for $600 million in stock and cash: I have to admit, this comes as a total surprise to me. With Qualcomm’s track record, this is very good news for Flarion because Qualcomm already has a firm foot in the door of the wireless community. While Qualcomm continues to push CDMA, it’s become clear that the future is OFDM and with this acquisition Qualcomm gets a strong portfolio of OFDM technologies. With Qualcomm owning CDMA and Flarion, integrating the two networks is likely to be smooth and the promise of such a smooth integration could be intriguing to a company like Sprint that has a CDMA network and is looking for something to do with its 2.5 GHz spectrum.
I’ll be interested to hear analysis on how this acquisition may affect the WiMax movement. Flarion is not a member of the WiMax Forum, so this potentially solidly pits Qualcomm against the WiMax community. Actually, it crystallizes what Robert Syupta, an analyst at Maravedis, calls the “Clash of the titans:” a monumental power struggle between Intel and Qualcomm.
Clearwire has apparently launched services in Belgium: It sounds as though the network is already live and serving customers but for some reason Clearwire isn’t talking about it. Seems like an unusual way to try to attract customers.
I wrote about Clearwire’s activities in Europe a couple of months ago when Caroline Gabriel at Rethink Research said that she expected Belgium to be the next European launch for Clearwire. At the time, she thought Clearwire may have already launched in Denmark but I haven’t been able to find any confirmation of that.
In Belgium, Clearwire is using the 3.5 GHz band and seems to be offering a good price for the access, although I’m not familiar enough with the market in Belgium to know what competitors there are charging.
Perhaps Clearwire is hoping to soft launch service in a few markets in Europe and then orchestrate a larger media announcement about its plans. We’ll just have to wait and see.
The European Commission hopes to make a decision about the 2.5 GHz band in October: This band was initially set aside as a 3G expansion band to be distributed in 2008. But it’s prime spectrum and the WiMax camp is arguing that regulators should allow 2.5 GHz users to deploy whatever technology they like in the band. The 3G lobby, which is powerful, feels that they’ve essentially paid in advance for this spectrum by shelling out billions during the first 3G auction and they don’t want to see competition from operators that may have the chance to buy this spectrum for a lot less money. While regulators in Europe are generally starting to consider a more open policy of allowing any type of technology in any band, it’s going to be a tough transition. Apparently France and Finland are arguing against opening up the band to any technology. Other countries haven’t said where they stand.
If the European Commission decides to reserve the 2.5 GHz band for 3G only, it’s not the end of the world for WiMax. WiMax could be included into the 3G family of technologies as sort of a back door entry into the band, though that process would likely be very lengthy.
One significant problem with all of this bickering is that it doesn’t allow operators to plan for the future, a salient point offered by Caroline Gabriel at Rethink Research. If operators knew that they could deploy WiMax, they could build a business case for it and aggressively pursue the spectrum. The big operators tend to move slowly so they need a couple of years to get such a plan together. But by the time a decision is made about what technologies will be allowed in the band, we’ll be close to the 2008 distribution of the spectrum. It’s just an uncertainty that offers one more hurdle for operators.
WiFi Projects will trial GigaBeam equipment in Ireland: GigaBeam uses spectrum very high on the band, in the 70 GHz and 80 GHz range, to deliver gigabit speed connections. Using spectrum that high up typically means that the connection can only travel a short distance. WiFi Projects said it’s using a trial license from ComReg, the regulator in Ireland. It’s not clear what kind of hoops WiFi Projects would have to jump through in order to commercially introduce a service using the equipment. ComReg sounds quite liberal in trying to invite companies to trial new technologies using off-beat frequencies in Ireland. Because it’s an island, Ireland isn’t as restricted as other European countries that need to be mindful of the spectrum rules of their neighbors. Also, Ireland is relatively sparsely populated, meaning there’s plenty of empty spectrum to be had here making it a good place to experiment. Also, Eircom, the telco in Ireland, is the epitome of a lumbering monopoly, offering incredibly poor service so that lots of people here are eager to use any competitive provider. [link via Om]
Irish Broadband said it is buying more equipment from Navini to expand its network: Currently, Irish Broadband uses a mixture of equipment, at least in Dublin. While I haven’t used the service based on gear from Navini, I would think it makes the most sense in Dublin. My landlord won’t let me hang an antenna on my building and I have friends here with the same problem. But with the Navini offering, customers just put the modem in their house near a window. Unfortunately, Irish Broadband doesn’t offer the Navini service where I live, but if it does start covering my neighborhood, I’d definitely switch from DSL, which is pretty spotty and requires me to pay more to the incumbent here.
As a condition of approval of the Sprint/Nextel merger, the FCC set some broadband wireless goals for the new company: Within four years of the merger, the companies must be serving 15 million people using their combined 2.5 GHz assets. That figure must double within six years. The combined companies control less then half of the 2.5 GHz band and both have actively trialed equipment for networks that could be deployed in the spectrum. As the author of this story notes, while it’s great to see some pressure on these companies to launch, the FCC has been known to forget requirements on telcos.
The French regulator has announced plans to distribute licenses that could be used for WiMax: Unfortunately I don’t know exactly what frequency we’re talking about here but my guess would be 3.5 GHz. Altitude already owns a 3.5 GHz nationwide license in France but there’s room for more. The regulator will distribute 44 licenses, two in each region of the country.
While many European countries have already distributed some licenses near the 3.5 GHz band, many of them are in the midst of distributing additional licenses.
Some are saying that the FCC’s decision to stop requiring DSL operators to open their networks to ISPs may be good news for wireless broadband: This is the end of the road for most ISPs. However, it’s also a big opportunity for broadband wireless equipment vendors. Essentially the only way to be an ISP in the future will be to have your own facilities and wireless is the most cost effective way to do that. Dana Blankenhorn suggests wireless ISPs tout the fact that they’re able to totally bypass the telcos as a way to win customers eager to take their business away from the incumbents.
This is a bit of a side note but also relevant. Wireless networks need backhaul. Wireless operators can lease lines from telcos, lay their own fiber or use point to point wireless links. They can even use LMDS spectrum. That’s right, you read correctly, the long forgotten LMDS spectrum. First Avenue Networks has consolidated a bunch of the LMDS spectrum and is currently doing a lot of backhaul for cellular companies. Wireless ISPs could also lease bandwidth from an operator like First Avenue for backhaul and an executive at the company says it is looking at the WiMax opportunity.
TowerStream is offering Vonage voice over IP service to customers: An increasing number of broadband wireless operators like TowerStream are offering voice services. It’s an important capability because in many cases it means the customer can completely sever its relationship with the telcos.
Voice services will add to revenues for broadband wireless operators but only initially, said Caroline Gabriel, research director at Rethink Research. Operators will have to invest in supporting voice and voice will quickly become commoditized, she said. “It will be essential to offer but it might not affect the business model [for operators] much beyond the first year,” she said.
BellSouth is selling broadband wireless in Athens, Ga.: The operator announced the plans last month but the service is now available. The lowest cost service is $30, which is a decent deal given that these customers could totally get rid of their landline phone. BellSouth said it’s interested in using broadband wireless to reach customers that are beyond the reach of DSL.
This is a pretty poor article in the International Herald Tribune about how mesh networks could help in emergencies like the recent bombs in London: The article defines mesh thus: “it links disparate hot spots into a single, expandable broadband wireless network.” It also says that mesh would have been particularly useful in London because there are lots of hotspots there already. To me, that sounds like mesh would connect a bunch of scattered hotspots that might be far away from each other and might be owned by different people. That’s not at all the case. In fact, the key to mesh is that every hotspot doesn’t require backhaul. Instead, hotspots can pass traffic one to the next until hitting one that connects to the Internet. But mesh doesn’t somehow magically connect different networks or hotspots that are individually owned. Also, like any wireless network, a mesh network could get so congested by users that it can’t carry any more traffic.