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After trialing WiMax in four UK towns, BT is likely to use the technology to deliver commercial broadband services soon: The target markets are in remote towns where using landline technologies has not proved feasible. The majority of people who trialed the service were quite happy with it, but a BT spokesman warns that they would be happy because the broadband service replaced dial-up access.
Telecom agencies in India and Canada are working together on a cognitive radio-based broadband wireless technology: The networks would operate in the 5 GHz spectrum (or possibly the licensed MMDS bands) and transmit as far as 1 kilometer to 2 kilometers. The base station would use as many as 48 antenna beams. The system would use cognitive radio technology to identify interference and poor links and then change its own signal transmission to improve the weak links. Ultimately the agencies hope to develop this as a low-costs system that can be used in underdeveloped regions or areas with aging telecom infrastructure.
It’s interesting to see that an Indian government body is involved in such research which appears to be primarily targeted at unlicensed bands, given that India only very recently de-licensed the 2.4 GHz band for Wi-Fi. The 5.1 GHz band is still only available for unlicensed use indoors.
There was a time when a few startup companies were trying to sell broadband wireless systems that used a handful of narrow antennas that could adapt to the environment to deliver the best signal. None of them used as many as 48 beams and they wouldn’t have been as sophisticated as cognitive radio. The only name I remember is BeamReach Networks, though I’m not totally convinced they’re still in business—the most recent press release listed is from early 2004. There were others too but I can’t recall their names.
Unwired, the operator offering broadband wireless using Navini’s equipment in Sydney, scored 14,000 customers in under five months: The company claims that accounts for 17 percent of new broadband users in Sydney. Unwired plans to upgrade its network to comply with 802.16e, the mobile WiMax standard, when it becomes available.
These are quite successful numbers for a wireless network in a major city. I don’t know the extent of broadband availability in Sydney, but I would imagine that it’s pretty good.
Irish Broadband uses Navini to offer service to some customers in Dublin. But it doesn’t appear that Irish Broadband’s strategy is seamless coverage throughout the city. The offering is available in pockets. Unlike Unwired’s service in Sydney, I don’t believe that the service is offered as a portable service in Dublin.
WiMax operators and telcos both fear that WiMax networks in already crowded markets threaten the profitability of both types of operators: They fear that competition for customers will increase their costs while the demand drives down end user prices, putting the squeeze on profits. That’s one more argument for why WiMax makes most sense in the U.S. in underserved markets.
The U.S. presents an unusual market for WiMax because of the broad availability of broadband and the spectrum situation there. Only a few lucky companies hold the ideal spectrum in which to deploy WiMax. The rest have to grapple with deciding to deploy using unlicensed frequencies. The large major telcos are unlikely to use the unlicensed bands for fear of unreliability.
Both BellSouth and Qwest have tested WiMax-like systems with BellSouth saying it may start offering a service next year.
While mobility may be key to the potential for WiMax to succeed, the networks must also be ubiquitous, argues David Haskin at Mobile Pipeline: Having WiMax chips built into laptops, as Intel envisions, will be useless unless WiMax networks are fairly widespread. Ubiquity is one aspect where the mobile operators, who are busy upgrading to HSDPA, have an advantage. It’s far easier for them to upgrade their networks to HSDPA for coverage throughout their entire footprint. A similar amount of coverage will take many years for a WiMax provider to build, given that they haven’t started yet and the equipment isn’t available yet.
I suspect that the mobile operators don’t actually want to compete head to head with WiMax. They can make more money by loading their HSDPA networks with applications that end users access via their handsets. These applications, which might include video or music downloads, will earn more revenue per MB and per MHz than straight data access to a PC card in a laptop. For that reason, operators that serve major markets, will continue to price straight data access comparatively high to discourage customers from using HSDPA as a DSL replacement. In fringe markets without much landline broadband competition, the scenario may be different.
IPWireless is making its technology available for use in the 450 MHz band: Some countries in Europe have recently distributed licenses for spectrum in the band and others are in the process of doing so. The IPWireless solution could be particularly attractive to operators because it supports roaming between an IPWireless network built using the 450 MHz band and UMTS in the 3G bands. I believe the solution only supports roaming between an HSDPA network and the IPWireless technology.
This offering definitely opens the door for IPWireless, mainly because it is allows for roaming between existing UMTS networks. Because the solution is compatible with existing UMTS networks, operators aren’t required to essentially build a totally separate network that can only attract a new customer base.
Flarion also recently announced that it, together with Siemens, is developing a 450 MHz solution. Flarion’s solution will be available in the second quarter this year. I don’t believe that operators that use the Flarion solution will be able to allow roaming between it and UMTS networks. However, Flarion may be pursuing a slightly different market. Its press release notes that specifically operators in Eastern Europe without UMTS licenses are looking for alternatives. The 450 MHz band and a greenfield deployment of something like Flarion’s technology could appeal to them.
Update: When I first posted this item this morning, I said that I wasn’t aware of other technologies available in the 450 MHz band and I surmised that Flarion and IPWireless may be looking for a first mover advantage. However, I’ve since learned that Nortel has developed CDMA gear that operates at 450 MHz and other vendors may offer similar products.
Also, an IPWireless press representative tells me that the IPWireless 450 MHz gear will be commercial by October this year.
Wireless Week posts an interview with analyst Andy Seybold, who answers questions about a wide range of wireless issues: In addition to his typical pro-CDMA comments, Seybold also took the opportunity to warn against using unlicensed frequencies for any commercial service and vaguely refer to all the businesses that have failed after trying to use unlicensed frequencies because of interference. Seybold’s main reason for warning against the unlicensed bands is because the potential for interference prevents a reliable offering. There are a couple of realities that he misses. For example, at one point he says that someone else might put up a network nearby that interferes, either on accident or because they say “the hell with the others.” The fact is, it’s pretty rare for someone to do that while saying “the hell with the others” because if you interfere with someone else, you’re also causing interference, and thus a reduced level of service, on your own network. That seems silly.
He specifically suggests that the risk of interference for systems that might extend wide area networks in-building by using unlicensed networks is too big, especially when customers pay for a “solid, reliable wireless connection all of the time.” It’s interesting that he would specifically use the in-building coverage example because ensuring good Wi-Fi coverage and capacity in a building is much simpler than using Wi-Fi in a wide area setting. Enterprises have been doing it for years. End users have as good a chance of getting a “solid, reliable wireless connection” over an in-building WLAN as they do of getting a “solid, reliable wireless connection” essentially anywhere within the coverage area of a cellular network.
Seybold also very clearly believes that Wi-Fi cannot be a solution for municipal networks. He’s right that Wi-Fi was originally built as a local area networking tool and is now being used as a wide area technology. Most people who use it as a wide area technology will tell you that it has limitations and isn’t ideal as such. But that doesn’t mean it can’t work—it is working as a wide area networking technology. There are plenty of cities in the U.S. that have built municipal networks. What option do they have at the moment? They certainly aren’t going to use one of the cellular technologies. They’re too expensive and require unavailable spectrum. And clearly the commercial providers aren’t meeting their needs.
Seybold also makes clear his views that Philadelphia is making a big mistake by pursuing a municipal network. He says that Wi-Fi is the wrong choice for such a network and that the city has basically been duped by some vendors. He also calls Philadelphia “weird.”
Seybold is on to something though when he mentions HSDPA. He suggests that users will stop using Wi-Fi, especially in Europe, once HSDPA becomes available because of the high price of Wi-Fi. It’s not yet clear how HSDPA will be priced but there’s a chance that the presence of HSDPA will put pressure on the hotspot operators in Europe to lower their prices. Otherwise, Seybold could be right and HSDPA might offer a better value.
Seybold also touches on WiMax a couple of times, noting that the best use for it will be for backhaul for cell companies. He says that he doesn’t believe any carrier will replace their WCDMA or CDMA networks with WiMax. That is likely true. The operators have far too much invested in their existing networks to completely change directions to replace those networks with WiMax, especially when the mobile version of WiMax is so unknown.
He also says that voice over WiMax won’t change the 3G market. I see voice over WiMax as a solution for areas that have no landline connectivity at all for voice. WiMax could cost-effectively and quickly bring fixed voice and data services to underserved communities. My sense is that those types of voice over WiMax services are getting far more attention than any voice over a mobile WiMax service that might come down the road and that might appear to be comparable to cellular offerings.
Qualcomm apparently is really out on the attack against WiMax: It’s funny though, because I wouldn’t think such a defensive mode would be necessary unless Qualcomm saw WiMax as a real potential competitor. If WiMax really is smoke and mirrors, why would Qualcomm be making such efforts to bash it?
The future widespread success of WiMax is uncertain, yet it’s hard to totally dismiss its potential. Yes, WiMax does have promise in the backhaul market, but it also holds promise for delivering access to the underserved or even to compete with DSL in some markets. There is definitely room to criticize the standardization process for WiMax and the technology has its shortcomings, but it clearly has potential.
Om Malik concludes that HSDPA will beat WiMax: While it will beat WiMax to market, HSDPA won’t take the place of WiMax. The two technologies will serve a different market. I’m in the midst of working on a story for Wireless Week about HSDPA and what I’m hearing from operators, analysts, and vendors is that operators won’t be looking to use HSDPA as a DSL or cable modem competitor. The operators are looking at HSDPA as essentially true 3G, enabling applications like video or music downloads on handheld devices. The mobile operators would have an incredibly hard time offering HSDPA at a flat rate to compete with the DSL folks—their costs, including spectrum, are just too high for them to be able to compete with the landline players.
But what HSDPA might do is relegate WiMax to mainly a fixed broadband access technology. By the time the mobile version of WiMax comes out, customers will already have been using HSDPA to access email and get online when they’re on the road. Unless a mobile WiMax can considerably beat the price of HSDPA, WiMax may have trouble competing in the mobile arena. Instead, the vast majority of the market for WiMax will be bringing broadband access to customers who don’t have access to DSL or cable modem.
I also can’t resist commenting on the quote here from Paul Jacobs of Qualcomm. Malik quotes him as saying: “WiMAX is nothing but hype. People can promise all sorts of things when you don’t have a system.” Not only are those words obviously self-serving, they’re comical if you’ve followed the development of CDMA from the very beginning. The groups supporting CDMA initially said that CDMA would offer at least ten times the capacity as the analog systems (I’ve found reports of reports stating a promised 20 times capacity increase). As operators began building their CDMA networks, that figure increasingly was lowered to six times the capacity. My point is only that Qualcomm isn’t really in the position to criticize other up-and-coming technologies.
Steve Stroh has compiled a list of WiMax/broadband wireless conferences for the year: The list includes conferences around the globe so chances are there’s one happening near you.
A very unconfirmed report suggests that Alcatel is thinking about opening a WiMax research center in India: India could be a significant market for WiMax given its size and relative underdevelopment of telecom. Alcatel recently announced a vague relationship with Intel whereby the two will work to speed the launch of WiMax networks.
It’s not quite clear yet how some of the cellular vendors will approach the WiMax market: Siemens recently said it would begin offering its own WiMax platform. Lucent and Alcatel will OEM Alvarion’s equipment. But other cellular vendors that have joined the WiMax Forum haven’t yet made announcements regarding their products, as Unstrung notes here. Peter Jarich of Current Analysis notes in the article that Siemens will have more to loose than Lucent and Alcatel if WiMax fails because it will have invested its own resources into developing the technology.
There’s a good chance we’ll see a lot of consolidation as it becomes clearer how WiMax will fare in the market. The cellular vendors who haven’t announced their strategies may also initially resell equipment made by companies such as Alvarion or Aperto. But once standardization kicks off and they get an indication of sales, if the going is good, they may start looking to buy the independent WiMax vendors. The interesting aspect of such consolidation is that some of the leading independent WiMax vendors may be fought after by the handful of cellular vendors that may be looking for a foothold in the market.
A new working group within the International Packet Communications Consortium was formed to work on roaming among wireless and wireline networks: One goal of the group is to facilitate handover between cellular and Wi-Fi/WiMax networks. It’s not totally clear to me how this group will co-exist next to the companies that are developing the Unlicensed Mobile Access technology. This new working group seems a bit broader in focus, also including the development of methods for roaming across DSL, cable, cellular, Wi-Fi, and WiMax networks.
Unless I’m missing something, “seamless roaming” between, for example, DSL and cellular, isn’t really possible. To me seamless implies that the user doesn’t do anything. But DSL requires users to be tethered to a wire. Perhaps “seamless roaming” in this sense has more to do with backend billing and customer management than handoffs.
Steve Stroh has some insightful theories on the future of Sprint and Nextel’s spectrum: He suggests that the companies will be quite busy with a number of different projects mostly related to their merger to actually deploy a broadband wireless network using their combined MMDS spectrum licenses. Stroh suggests that the recent noise Sprint has made regarding its plans to deploy WiMax once the mobile version is just that: noise. He suspects these announcements serve as a distraction that may cause competitors such as Verizon and Cingular to consider competing in the broadband wireless space.
Stroh also has an intriguing theory on what Sprint and Nextel may do with their valuable MMDS spectrum. He suspects they’ll lease it to Clearwire. That way Sprint/Nextel help Clearwire serve as serious competition to Sprint/Nextel rivals, namely SBC, BellSouth, and Verizon.
The idea certainly makes sense and is a possibility. Partly for irrational reasons, I lean toward hoping that Sprint/Nextel will deploy its own network using the spectrum. The irrational part is because I’d like to see another operator in the fray, coming up with its own ideas of how to build the network and how to market the service. It would be fun to watch.
But there are some legitimately good reasons for Sprint/Nextel to deploy a network using the spectrum too, for all the obvious reasons that any operator would be interested in deploying a broadband wireless network. Sprint/Nextel is in a unique position because of all the spectrum the new company controls. That means they could have an edge over competitors if they use the spectrum, either to target underserved communities or down the road to offer high bandwidth services to mobile customers.
It’s possible that in a roundabout way Stroh and I are on the same page about Hybrid’s equipment. The feedback I got back when I was covering Sprint’s deployment of the equipment (and I have to add that I haven’t circled back and talked to Sprint or its customers for a very long time and Stroh has) was that Hybrid lacked some capabilities that would be useful in a carrier grade network. For example, it was my understanding that Sprint couldn’t meter bandwidth on the network. That would mean that loading the network would be very tricky business. It’s a gamble to just perfectly oversubscribe the network such that at any given moment too many customers don’t log on and use up all the bandwidth.
The convergence of mobile and Wi-Fi or WiMax networks will prove useful for enterprise users, but the process of integration must be considered: This article examines how government agencies can benefit from converged networks but concludes that network administrators will want to work with a single integrator to put a package of seamless applications together and end users won’t want to have to manage their connections.
The author also warns that while integration with WiMax networks may also be useful, WiMax operators may initially be more focused on building their market then trying to integrate with cellular operators. However, it may take several years before an integrated WiMax and cellular service is useful, given that the initial WiMax services will be fixed.
While the topic of converged Wi-Fi and cellular networks has been making headlines often recently, I suspect that one of the biggest road blocks, which I don’t think is getting enough attention, will be with the cellular operators. The only way that most of them will be interested in the convergence is if they control as much of each call from end to end as possible. That thinking might put a damper on plans enterprises might like to develop where they hope to offload some cellular traffic onto internal WLANs to cut costs.
Tropos, the developer of mesh networks, has added a new feature that allows network administrators to essentially separate traffic based on user groups: That means that if a city, for example, deploys a municipal network using Tropos gear, the city network administrators can allow different user groups to essentially have their own virtual networks, with individual encryption mechanisms and access control. Police, fire, and other city departments would individually administer and access their own network and applications and likewise residents could use the network for Internet access. Each user group’s traffic would be separate and secure from the others, so residential users wouldn’t be able to access police databases, for example. Tropos doesn’t use the term VLAN, or virtual LAN, but it sounds like essentially that is what is being offered here.
This capability is likely very valuable for municipalities. It means that a city can build a network but offer it to various user groups ranging from city workers to carriers who can then use the network to offer services to residents. Municipalities can more easily justify the network.
Siemens is offering SkyMax, radios and modems based on the fixed WiMax standard: The products will be available in the second half of this year. Siemens joins a growing list of vendors that have traditionally served the cellular world who are now offering products based on WiMax.
In-Stat expects that 3 percent or 8.5 million people will use WiMax by 2009: The researchers also say that only as much as 15 percent of the market will be available to broadband wireless operators in metropolitan cities. The report’s author believes that broadband competition, price pressure, and high subscriber acquisitions will drive margins lower.
This description of this deal is vague enough that it raises the suspicion that it might become one of those agreements that amounts to nothing: Alcatel and Intel said they will work together to develop and market WiMax technology to operators. The companies say they’ll work together to try to speed up the delivering of WiMax solutions. It’s not clear what exactly the companies might do beyond the normal efforts that vendors are already undertaking to get WiMax products on the market. Alcatel also recently said it would buy equipment from Alvarion and sell it under its own label.
Operators and vendors cite some more good reasons why HSDPA and WiMax really can’t compete in the eyes of mobile operators: There’s no reason why a mobile operator might not decide to deploy both, but WiMax really isn’t an option instead of HSDPA for mobile operators. One of the most important reasons, as a Siemens spokesperson notes here, is that HSDPA uses the same frequencies as the mobile operators are currently using. Plus, it’s just an upgrade for most operators while WiMax would involve building a whole new network. But WiMax could be an option for mobile operators who acquire the spectrum for it and who decide to target a slightly different market than that which HSDPA might attract.
T-Mobile has launched a free (for now) broadband wireless Internet service on the Brighton to Victoria express train service in the UK: Commuters will access the network via Wi-Fi. Most of the headlines around this story proclaim that T-Mobile is using WiMax for the backhaul. Nomad Digital Rail is building the network for T-Mobile. It’s not clear which vendor is supplying the broadband wireless backhaul equipment but it appears to be a vendor that plans to deliver WiMax-compliant equipment eventually.
Typically, these types of application use either satellite or cellular to backhaul the network. A broadband wireless technology like WiMax can support much higher bandwidths. It has long been my opinion that these types of Internet access offerings, made to captive audiences like commuters, are a great idea. This Brighton trip takes 55 minutes and I know that if I had that commute each day I’d be willing to pay in order to be able to get Internet access and be productive.
T-Mobile plans to introduce the service on other train lines this summer, when it will begin charging for the service.
T-Mobile has been one of the most aggressive cellular operators to pursue Wi-Fi and now it is showing its willingness to employ other wireless technologies that will allow it to achieve its goals. It’s great news for the WiMax industry to have a major player like T-Mobile employing a WiMax-like technology.
This is one of those incredibly vague articles that leaves you dying for more information: Apparently MobileOne in Singapore has been trialing a handful of wireless broadband technologies—not yet WiMax—and has some negative comments about its experiences so far. Unfortunately, MobileOne declines to name which technologies it is trialing. MobileOne also said it had decided against Wi-Fi, so if you exclude Wi-Fi and WiMax, the potential technologies MobileOne might be trialing could include Flarion, IPWireless, and Navini. But it’s hard to know how MobileOne might categorize any of the vendors who make fixed broadband wireless systems that are loosely based on either Wi-Fi or WiMax so it’s hard to know if those might also be contenders.
MobileOne has so far concluded that the coverage claims from the vendors aren’t turning out to be true, but its statements about that are also quite vague. The spokesman says that it takes 1,200 base stations to cover the island with a mobile service and that some of the vendors it is trialing say they can cover the island with six or ten base stations. The spokesman says that in trials, that number increases. I wonder how significantly it increases. Even if it takes 100 base stations to cover the island, that’s quite an improvement on 1,200.
Apparently MobileOne plans to take a look at WiMax later this year so it’ll be interesting to see how WiMax stacks up against some of the other technologies that the operator has trialed.
Steve Stroh notes that there are a number of smaller broadband wireless operators that have joined the WiMax Forum recently: While the big operators have loudly trumpeted their membership in the forum, the smaller players haven’t made such noise about their membership. Yet, as Stroh notes, these relatively smaller operators are quite important members of the forum seeing as some of them have been offering broadband wireless services for many years. I find NextWeb’s membership especially important. NextWeb claims to be the largest broadband wireless operator in California and seems to be successful at offering services in large markets like San Francisco where the company competes against all the major wireline broadband service providers. NextWeb has managed to attract venture capital funding and is at least trying to be seen as a leader in the market by working together with other broadband wireless operators on spectrum sharing issues.
When I’ve talked to folks like NextWeb, they seem excited yet cautious about WiMax. They are very interested in the cost savings they might realize by the availability of a standards-based solution. But they’re also wary because they say that WiMax was made to conform to the lowest common denominator, as standards-based solutions usually do, so it will likely have some shortcomings compared to some of the proprietary solutions on the market now.
New York public television station Thirteen/WNET is demonstrating an emergency response system that uses its broadband wireless spectrum: This is a really interesting idea. WNET has Instructional Television Fixed Services (ITFS) spectrum. The spectrum is in the same range as Multi-channel Mulitpoint Distribution Service (MMDS) frequencies but was distributed to educational and religious organizations. The vast majority of it has been seriously underused and for years these organizations have worked with various segments of the broadband wireless industry to find a use for the spectrum. WNET has found a great application. The most recent iteration of its trial network uses broadband wireless equipment from Nextnet, a company owned by Craig McCaw that is building products to the WiMax standard. Ultimately WNET hopes the system can supply two-way voice, data, and video communications.
The companies involved are showcasing their demo to lawmakers and believe that this type of network can be deployed in many cities where ITFS spectrum is under-used. This is really prime spectrum. Typically the spectrum that law enforcement uses is much lower on the band, which means it tends to support mainly voice or low bandwidth applications. But ITFS is high enough on the band that it can support higher-data rate applications like video, which could be useful to emergency response teams. This is an interesting potential use of WiMax which could prove profitable for vendors that target this segment.
Speakers at a conference at Harvard discussed the roles of Wi-Fi and WiMax among the cellular networks: Some of the speakers had some interesting points. One venture capitalist noted that the mobile operators are going to be very reluctant to offload traffic onto Wi-Fi networks after they spent so much on 3G licenses. Clint McLelland from Qualcomm has a good point in reply, but it’s mostly only relevant to the U.S. market. He notes that customers subscribe to flat-rate plans so if operators offload some of the traffic to Wi-Fi, it saves the operator money by freeing up the cellular network. It’s very different in Europe, however, where the vast majority of cell phone customers pay as they go rather than paying a monthly subscription. Still, regardless of how end users pay, this is where UMA comes in because the cellular operator could still control the entire call, charging the same per minute fee whether the call uses the cellular airwaves or Wi-Fi.
There are a couple of questionable comments in this story. For instance, McLelland notes that Qualcomm’s offices are already covered in Wi-Fi so even if Intel gives WiMax base stations away, it’s unlikely that companies would replace the Wi-Fi. Companies wouldn’t do that just because someone was giving away WiMax (which they won’t) but they might use WiMax because it’s easier to deploy and potentially cheaper if it requires fewer base stations.
There was one other interesting quote in this article. The president of Tropos Networks claims that despite the farther reach of a single WiMax base station, operators will need to deploy the same number of WiMax base stations as they would Wi-Fi base stations today. I find that a bit hard to believe. I would expect that operators will need more than one WiMax base station per 30 miles, as the WiMax proponents claim. But I would also expect that operators could do with fewer base stations than in Wi-Fi deployments. Tropos may have a vested interest in that comment because the company uses Wi-Fi to cover whole towns, but Tropos could also easily migrate to WiMax and make the same sort of offering so I’m not sure where he’s coming from with that comment.
Some reporters are already noting that one of the central discussions so far at the 3GSM conference surrounds technologies that will come after 3G: HSDPA, an upgrade that promises to increase throughput of UMTS networks to as fast as 1 Mbps per user, has been a hot topic in general recently. I spoke the other day with Dave Williams at O2, which claims to be building the first HSDPA network in Europe on the Isle of Man, for a story I’m writing for Wireless Week. I’ll link to it when it runs.
WiMax is certainly also being discussed as a possibility for the next step beyond 3G, but it seems to get brushed aside by the cellular operators in favor of technologies like HSDPA that were designed for the frequencies they currently use and as an upgrade rather than a full greenfield deployment.
Whenever a new technology starts to hit the mainstream, some press outlets may have a hard time grasping it: That seems to be the problem in this UPI article, which among other odd statements notes that WiMax helps customers roam from one wireless network to another, apparently a key factor in delivering 3G networks. Somehow the reporter has also concluded that there are security concerns with WiMax that would allow hackers to access these “free” networks and “wreak havoc on mobile phone calling.” This is probably the most far off-base article I’ve seen about WiMax.
We all get it wrong sometimes, but it seems that a wee bit more research was really necessary before this reporter should have published this story.
In the spirit of disclosing roots of information, for those of you who aren’t aware of it, UPI is owned by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, who claims to have seen Jesus and then founded a church. He also owns The Washington Times.
We’ve covered Sprint’s WiMax intentions here before but some more solid details have surfaced: Sprint appears to have solid plans to build WiMax networks, once the mobile version is available. The company plans to test WiMax this year but won’t do anything commercial until the mobile equipment is available. Sprint also said it would use WiMax to backhaul existing cellular base stations.
I’m a bit surprised that Sprint would make known such aggressive plans only because the mobile version of WiMax is quite a ways into the future. The company will have a long wait before the gear is available to it.
My initial reaction to these plans was to wonder why Sprint wouldn’t decide to use an existing technology, especially given Nextel’s use of Flarion, even if the existing offerings are proprietary. But it’s probably important to keep in mind that Sprint has been burned before trying to use its MMDS licenses. It was an early mover in building out networks several years ago after it bought a slew of MMDS licenses but the equipment it used, from a company called Hybrid, just wasn’t quite there yet so Sprint shelved the effort. Perhaps that experience means Sprint now wants to wait for a technology that is built on a standard, which presumably goes through a rigorous testing and development procedure before hitting the market.
This analysis of the buy vs. build question facing telcos includes a mention of how the potential of future wireless technologies may be affecting the value of long distance companies: The author argues that there’s a debate among telcos over whether to buy long distance businesses as an entrée into the enterprise market or use other technologies to target other high-growth market segments. WiMax and 3G are big unknowns at the moment but have the potential to generate significant revenues for operators that choose to deploy them to target new markets.
A Lehman Brothers analyst suggests that Verizon’s planned MCI acquisition means the company will deviate from its aggressive wireless strategy, which will put a damper on potential growth. It’s hard to say if the acquisition will actually affect Verizon’s wireless strategy. On a side note, Verizon Avenue has also been a user of broadband fixed wireless. It’s certainly possible that Verizon can contine to focus on aggressive growth in its mobile business, while pursuing other broadband wireless as well as enterprise opportunities.
This piece briefly touches on WPA2, the latest Wi-Fi security mechanism, but also looks at what some say are shortcomings in security provisions built into WiMax: Some vendors are saying that the authentication scheme built into the WiMax standard is weak. They also say that DES 3, the encryption method supported by the standard is weaker than AES, another encryption method which is supported in WPA2. Apparently Intel has submitted a proposal for including AES in WiMax. It also sounds like some vendors may hope to support strong security mechanisms as a way to differentiate their products and attract security-conscious customers.
Unstrung has run an article looking at the shortcomings of the WiMax standard: The piece notes that the standard doesn’t support a specific method for delivering voice over IP, for example. Vendors will have to implement that support in their own manner.
Some of the shortcomings mentioned in this piece might be a problem if operators were actually expecting to mix and match customer premise equipment and base stations from different vendors. The feedback I’ve been getting is that for the first version of WiMax, which will be fixed, operators are expecting to have to use CPEs from their base station vendor. This really isn’t an issue for a fixed service. Operators can still buy from various vendors, they’ll just have to be sure that customers get a CPE from the vendor that supplies the base station they’ll communicate with. But interoperability that supports all promised services becomes important with a portable or mobile version because customers will have to receive a seamless service no matter which base station they attach to.
SimbaNet, an operator in Kenya, is building a network using equipmet from Cambridge Broadband: It sounds like SimbaNet uses a wide variety of technologies to deliver broadband services to customers. Cambridge is a member of the WiMax Forum.
An analyst from Ovum wonders if mobile WiMax might be a solution for mobile operators beyond 3G: But he says that it’s just too early to determine whether WiMax might make a good option, given that the mobile WiMax standard is still a ways into the future and because other technologies are also contenders.
I’m suspicious that the mobile version of WiMax will have some very real shortcomings compared to technologies that were architected for mobility. WiMax was initially built to be a fixed solution. The decision to try to add mobility came later. The most efficient application of WiMax will be a portable service; one that allows customers to access the network from a laptop from various locations around town. Other networks, such as the 3G networks, should be used for applications that require actual mobility, like automotive services or applications onboard trains.
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Alcatel will sell Alvarion gear with its own label (the press release isn’t posted yet but should be some time soon): This news follows another recent announcement from Alvarion that Lucent will integrate Alvarion’s BreezeMax equipment into its portfolio. Interestingly, the Alcatel announcement doesn’t specifically mention which Alvarion products it will OEM, but refers to Alvarion’s “WiMax-ready” solution. BreezeMax is the line that Alvarion typically touts as being based on WiMax.
At the same time, Alcatel said it will run pilot deployments for TDF, a French broadcast service provider, and RATP, the Paris public transport agency.
Alvarion is busy in France. It is also supplying equipment for Altitude Telecom, an operator that owns a nationwide 3.5 Ghz license in France.
Adaptix is supplying a broadband wireless network that will cover the ShiJinShan area of China: Adaptix, which refers to the system as “pre-WiMax,” said the network will be built on a cellular architecture for full coverage of the area. Adaptix also says this will be the first “pre-WiMax” system in China, although I suspect that’s debatable. I’m not entirely clear how close this network is to WiMax given that the press release also refers to it as a wireless mobile broadband network platform, and as we all know, WiMax isn’t yet mobile.
A recent Economist article on WiMax, which Glenn commented on recently, has spurred some insightful discussion on Dave Farber’s Interesting People list: Part of the difficulty in examining the potential for WiMax, which I think becomes apparent in this discussion, is that arguments for and against WiMax’s potential vary dramatically based on specific markets. For example, some urban areas could make great opportunities for WiMax while others won’t. The same goes for rural. The argument changes again when you’re looking at operators that may used licensed spectrum compared to those who would use licensed frequencies.
I agree with the issue that some of Farber’s readers have with the Economist’s statement that urban WiMax doesn’t make sense. The Economist says that WiMax isn’t economical compared to cable or DSL. That may be true if you’re a telco or a cable company. If not, WiMax makes perfect sense.
It’s making sense for Irish Broadband, which uses gear from Alvarion (not quite WiMax of course) to offer broadband Internet here in Dublin. Eircom, the local phone company, has incredibly ailing facilities and has opted not to put the money into upgrading their network. As such, DSL is really tough to get (although my fingers are crossed that I’ll get it in my apartment). The cable company here only offers service in a small part of town and doesn’t have intentions of expanding the service. From what I’m reading in the paper and hearing anecdotally, Irish Broadband is doing quite well serving this broadband-starved market. They appear to be proof that WiMax (or something like it) can work in an urban environment in the developed world, although I would think that Dublin is an unusual situation in Europe.
Also, on a side note, the reason I’m not an Irish Broadband customer, is that my landlord won’t allow them to mount the dish outside of the building. I’m not sure how widespread of an issue that is here.
Still, it’s true that the price of WiMax gear will have to drop, but that’s the whole point of making it a standard. The real question here is whether the equipment can hit the market soon enough and then start decreasing in price quick enough for WiMax to gain some traction in the market.
Brett Glass, who apparently operates a wireless ISP, has some interesting proposals for making changes to spectrum regulation that he thinks would improve the market potential for WiMax. While many of them make sense, some are unlikely to be appealing to the FCC. For example, he suggests limiting the density of access points deployed by any one provider. While that could eliminate the potential of one company from dominating the airwaves, it seems to defeat the purpose of having unlicensed spectrum. If spectrum has been made available for use within certain parameters to anyone, you can’t limit those who choose to aggressively pursue using it.
He also suggests a ruling that dedicates unlicensed spectrum just for wireless broadband so as to avoid conflict with other consumer devices that use the same spectrum band. The problem with that is that you cut off the potential for innovation. If the rules around the use of unlicensed spectrum are too narrow, than no one can ever experiment in it and develop new products, like Wi-Fi.
Glass also says that the only potential benefit of WiMax is its potential to reduce equipment costs. He goes on to say that potential is limited because operators can already buy equipment based on Wi-Fi and that’s much cheaper than the initial WiMax will be. From my conversations with wireless ISPs who currently operate networks that are based on Wi-Fi, there’s a bit more to it than that. They say that the equipment they use basically tweaks Wi-Fi for their purposes, extending the range of typical Wi-Fi and doing as much as possible to add quality of service and other mechanisms crucial for operators. But since Wi-Fi was created as a local area networking technology and not a wide area networking technology, the result is less than ideal. WiMax was meant to address the shortcomings of such wide area networks that are currently based on Wi-Fi (as well as the shortcomings of all the other proprietary broadband wireless solutions out there).
Verizon Avenue has bought a whopping 2,3000 fixed wireless broadband units from Alvarion for networks it will build on military bases: The networks will cover five military communities in Monterey, Calif. In addition to the BreezeAccess gear which will make up the network, Verizon will also use Alvarion’s BreezeNet point-to-point radios to backhaul the network.
It appears to me that Alvarion is stretching a bit in its efforts to drop the WiMax name in this announcement. The press release notes that BreezeAccess is base on OFDM, the basis for WiMax. While that’s true, plenty of broadband wireless equipment has been based on OFDM and it still bears little resemblance to WiMax. Alarion’s BreezeMax equipment is the gear that was designed to comply with WiMax and is likely closer to WiMax than BreezeAccess. According to an Alvarion press representative, BreezeAccess was built for the unlicensed applications and is commonly used in rural deployments.
Verizon Avenue seems to have become a believer in broadband wireless. The company’s mission is to bring access to rural markets an multi-dwelling units. Verizon Avenue used Alvarion gear to build a broadband wireless trial in a small town in Virginia.
O2 recently announced that it would build an HSDPA network on the Isle of Man: HSDPA is a 3G upgrade that promises to deliver 1 Mbps data rates. HSDPA has been the buzz among mobile operators recently and sounds to be a much simpler upgrade than the move from 2G to 3G with big promise. O2 has apparently bet against Wi-Fi but is trialing WiMax in Ireland to determine if the technology could be useful to the operator.
I always debate whether to post items about stories or announcements that are just plain wrong, but it’s hard to ignore this one because it comes from such a large, worldwide analyst firm: Actually, it’s hard to tell whether this piece was issued directly from Frost and Sullivan or if it’s meant to be a news story written by a third party. Regardless, there are enough inaccuracies in quotes to wonder how long the analyst has been covering this space. He points out here that one of the big issues facing WiMax will be that it operates in unlicensed spectrum and thus has a chance of lowered quality due to interference. Perhaps he’s unaware that there is also licensed WiMax gear in the works, specifically that which will operate in the 3.5 GHz band which is licensed to operators in Europe.
This piece also includes a confusing description of an “emerging trend” toward combining Wi-Fi and WiMax in cell phones, laptops, and PDAs. The reason for such a combination, the piece notes, is to provide access through Wi-Fi and backhaul over WiMax. There are a couple things wrong with this description. First, the idea of using WiMax to backhaul hotspots is hardly an emerging trend and in fact was one of the earliest ideas for using WiMax. Also, to use WiMax to backhaul hotspots, customers don’t need combined Wi-Fi and WiMax devices. They’ll just need a Wi-Fi-enabled device for access.
There are a few other slightly off statements in this piece. It just seems odd to see an analyst from a big firm having such a tenuous grip on a market segment that it appears is his job to follow.
ABD Networks is building a network to cover the 100 square miles of Mauritius, an island in the south west Indian Ocean: The operator considered DSL and cable, but the terrain of the island is too rugged. The operator also required a non-line-of-sight solution to get around the mountains. Navini is a member of the WiMax Forum and says that ADB is “superbly positioned” to take advantage of WiMax, which I suspect means that Navini hopes to be able to upgrade the network to be WiMax compliant.
It’s a sad day for those lucky folks in North Carolina who have been using Nextel’s mobile broadband wireless network: Nextel has sent emails to customers letting them know that the service will be shut down in June. The network, which Nextel originally called a trial but then upgraded to a fully commercial offering, uses gear from Flarion. Some are saying that the merger with Sprint, which recently joined the WiMax Forum, may have led to Nextel’s decision to put an end to the Flarion network. Sprint has reportedly trialed Flarion’s equipment but believes WiMax is a better bet.
It’s really too bad, because I’ve seen nothing but rave reviews from folks using the network. It seems to work well and is particularly valuable because customers can access the network anywhere in the coverage area, not just their homes or offices. The capability puts WiMax to shame, as WiMax equipment isn’t available and won’t initially offer a portable or mobile capability.
The choice of WiMax over Flarion despite the fact that Flarion gear is available and seems to work well, may be a powerful statement regarding the importance of standards. The lack of a standard has certainly been Flarion’s biggest stumbling block, as operators hesitate to choose a technology platform that isn’t supported by a very wide array of vendors.
At the same time, Flarion also announced an upgrade to its offering which would deliver 6 Mbps in a 5 MHz wide channel. At peak throughputs, Flarion claims that the network could support 186 voice over IP calls per sector.
Manitoba Telecom sold its share of a project that aimed to build broadband wireless networks in Canada to project partners Rogers and NR Communications: Rogers vaguely says it is exploring its options and NR apparently hasn’t made any comment.
While this initiative may be fizzling, I wouldn’t make this particular incident into a Canadian broadband wireless killer. There are other long-running broadband wireless deployments in Canada that bring services to the remote reaches of the country. In addition, perhaps it is significant that NR, which is apparently backed by Craig McCaw, hasn’t made any comments yet. McCaw is also involved with Inukshuk in Canada, which owns wireless spectrum there and has already built some networks.
Om Malik wonders if the AT&T/SBC merger will be bad for WiMax: AT&T and Intel recently said they’d collaborate on developing chips. But now that AT&T is aligned with SBC, which has a large mobile network in Cingular, it’s not clear what might happen to the WiMax initiative at AT&T.
I think that the 3G and WiMax markets, especially the first version of WiMax, are very separate. But the mobile operators are notoriously protective of their space and often reluctant to try new initiatives—look how long it took most of them (except T-Mobile) to pursue Wi-Fi. If AT&T was going to be a WiMax proponent, it likely will be less of a cheerleader now.