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CNN/Money takes a look at which companies might profit from WiMax: While some of the facts in this story are a bit shaky, it generally does a nice job of looking at the risks and the potential of WiMax. I’ll be interested to watch how the vendor community changes over the next couple of years. As the article notes, some of the big vendors are reselling gear from the likes of Alvarion and Airspan. But what this author misses is that some of the same bigger vendors that are reselling such gear have already announced that they’ll make their own versions to comply with the mobile WiMax standard. In February, Alcatel, which resells Alvarion products, said it would work with Intel on the development of mobile WiMax equipment. Siemens, which resells Alvarion gear, also recently introduced its own line of WiMax products. But companies including Ericsson and Nokia which haven’t done much in the WiMax space will surely want to sell WiMax equipment so they could be potential buyers for the likes of Alvarion, Airspan, or any of the other many WiMax vendors.
Brighton Metranet is a metropolitan-scale pre-WiMax network and among the first in Europe of this scale: The goal was to cover 90 percent of the city’s schools and students with service. The local city council and the University of Sussex are working with Metranet to build this network. A trial last year involved seven schools and three university locations. The future direction is to link up city workes in the field.
Fujitsu offers chip similar to Intel, hot on its heels: In the wake of Intel’s announcement that it has WiMax chips ready to hit manufacturers, Fujitsu’s news shows the market is finally starting to roll over the big hump of silicon. Certification is still months away, but at least there will be multiple chip vendors in the market, a general requirement for interoperability testing and certification of new networking standards like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Fujitsu is claiming a higher level of integration in their chips than Intel offers, and WirelessNewsFactor agrees. Aperto will use both chipsets, however. The chip can be configured for either base station or consumer premises equipment use.
Terrific article on the local impact of pre-WiMax in Minneapolis: The Star-Tribune scores on the technical side with this excellent mainstream business analysis of WiMax. The writer even beats most of the folks in the trade publications by perfectly describing the status of WiMax. The element that’s not fully developed is that fixed WiMax can’t compete against clouds of Wi-Fi and that Wi-Fi can be used for long-distance links, too. But pre-WiMax and related technology is designed for point-to-multipoint while Wi-Fi has to be coerced into it.
In the Minneapolis area, local companies StoneBridge and Implex.net are using broadband wireless to compete with local carriers: the former has 650 customers; the latter says several hundred.
Interestingly, no prices are quoted for higher-than-T-1 speeds. Broadband wireless often can’t compete for business-class 1.5 Mbps service, but as soon as you rise above that level, it’s much cheaper. To install two T-1 lines generally costs twice as much in equipment and for monthly fees. But switching from 1.5 to 3 Mbps using wireless is typically more like a 50 percent increase and doesn’t change out the equipment. Even better, you can often make that switch through a phone call—not by bringing in more wire and equipment.
Aperto said it will use Fujitsu chips for its PacketWave base stations and business-grade customer premise equipment: Aperto said that multiple carrier field trials have been planned using the products based on the Fujitsu chip. Earlier this week, Aperto said it would use Intel’s chips in its consumer-grade customer premise equipment.
TI announced today three RF chips for WiMax: The chips will be available in ranges near the 2.5 GHz, 3.5 GHz, and 5 GHz bands. For example, the higher band chip supports 4.9 GHz to 5.9 GHz, so a vendor could use the same chip but filter it so that it focuses on a more narrow band as required by customers. “If the silicon vendors were to provide a device for every specific frequency there’d be an infinite number because every carrier has a different frequency they want to use in every country,” said Zatil Hamid, marketing development manager for TI’s wireless infrastructure group. “The best way to do it is to have as wide a range as possible while maintaining high performance and giving the customer the flexibility to tune to the specific frequency they want.”
The initial WiMax products will contain an RF chip that is separate from the chip that supports the MAC and the PHY layers. This allows vendors to use the same MAC/PHY chip across many products that support different frequency bands. Companies like Intel and Fujitsu tend to focus on the PHY/MAC chips while TI, with a history of serving the cellular industry, is also making the RF portion.
The TI chips can be used in both the base station and the CPE, allowing vendors to leverage the volumes of CPEs that will be sold. Also, TI expects these chips to be usable in the mobile 802.16e devices. Even though the 802.16e standard isn’t yet complete, it’s expected that the radio portion will remain the same as the current standard.
TI is shipping pre-production units of the chips with volume availabilities later this year.
Broadband wireless vendor Redline launched its line of WiMax gear: Like the WiMax gear from many other vendors, the name of the new line is predictable—RedMax. The base stations and CPEs use Intel chips. Redline, Alvarion, and Airspan said in mid-March that they had privately begun to test interoperability of their products.
NextWeb, the wireless ISP in California, said it will introduce voice over IP services starting in May: NextWeb targets business customers and recently introduced service in Los Angeles, following up on its flagship San Francisco market. Voice services are important for companies like NextWeb that are targeting business customers because the voice capability enables NextWeb to offer bundles that are competitive to those offered by the telcos. The possibility of a high-quality voice over IP over wireless service is relatively recent because the equipment must support quality of service and other mechanisms that can give priority to voice traffic and ensure a level of call quality. In addition to the standard call waiting, call forwarding, and caller ID services, customers will also get additional bells and whistles like integration with Microsoft’s Outlook.
The WiMax Forum said it is on schedule to begin certifying products. The lab will open in July and the forum expects the first certified products to hit the market in November or December. The initial products to be certified are TDD and FDD versions of 3.5 GHz gear. The announcement was made after the forum’s quarterly meeting in Spain.
The forum also expanded on its agreement to work with ETSI. I suspect this alliance is aimed at the forum’s attempts at ensuring that the 2.5 GHz band, to be allocated in Europe by 2008, can be used for WiMax but I’m not sure I’m reading between the lines of this press release well enough.
Perhaps one of the most significant items of the announcement is that all Korean operators have joined the WiMax Forum and Samsung has become a member of the board. Also, it’s official: WiBro products will be WiMax certified. WiBro is the homegrown mobile broadband wireless technology developed in Korea. It was originally incompatible with WiMax, but recently the teams have been working together and it has been understood that WiBro and WiMax will be compatible once the mobile 802.16e version of WiMax is standardized. It appears that this is the official announcement that the two will be compatible. There is no mention specifically of 802.16e but I’m assuming that the interoperability between WiBro and WiMax can’t happen until 802.16e.
The press release is likely to become available here.
Islington in London is to get a mile long free Wi-Fi network starting tomorrow: BelAir Networks, which offers a mesh solution, supplied the network. Users can access the network with 802.11b clients and BelAir uses 802.11g for backhaul. There is some inconclusive discussion in this article about how the free network will coincide with the commercial hotspots offered by BT. There are some vague quotes here from Phil Belanger at BelAir about how existing BT Openzone customers are likely to continue to subscribe to that service and that the free network is available for “other reasons” than to compete with the BT network. I would conclude that the free network could steal the minimal potential customers who might exclusively need hotspots within the one mile stretch. Otherwise, BT Openzone will still appeal to customers who rely on hotspot access throughout a broader territory.
Aperto said it will use Intel’s chips for its consumer grade WiMax subscriber equipment: Aperto will use Intel’s chips in customer premise equipment using the 3.5 GHz, 2.5 GHz, and 5 GHz bands. It appears that a lot of vendors will be making big announcements at Broadband Wireless World, happening this week in Las Vegas. Many of the announcements seem to surround chips—either the availability of WiMax chips or vendor choices of chips. Vendors are making these announcements just prior to the scheduled July start of the WiMax certification process. Most chips, however, have been available in small quantities to equipment vendors who have been making test models available to certain customers. The press release doesn’t seem to be online yet but should appear here.
Intel is expected to release Rosedale, its WiMax chip today: Along with that announcement, I expect a number of articles from the mainstream press that are likely to skew the facts. This Business Week article is a case in point. The article has some inaccuracies (such as stating that McCaw founded Clearwire in 1998; in reality, he bought the company last year) but also extends some stretching of the truth that was likely offered to the writer by Intel. For example, the article states that WiMax will offer speeds six times as fast as existing broadband technologies. While WiMax is capable of delivering very high throughput, residential users are likely to be offered speeds quite similar to that offered by DSL and cable modem services because it will allow the WiMax operators to offer the service to more customers. The article also says that by developing the WiMax standard, Intel has “stolen a march on rivals like Fujitsu.” In fact, I see WiMax as offering great potential business for the likes of Fujitsu, which is expected to be one of the earliest chip makers to release a WiMax chip. Wi-LAN, a major broadband wireless vendor, has already said it will use the Fujitsu chips and I’ve got advance news of another major vendor that plans to announce later this week that it will use the Fujitsu chip.
Intel is expected to also announce vendors that have decided to use Rosedale and offer a recap of WiMax trials around the globe. I’ve got at least one announcement from a vendor that will use the chip but it’s not public until the wee hours of the morning in the U.S. so stay tuned.
This brief item from CNet is pretty misleading: The article makes WiBro sound like a new technology developed to allow users to watch TV on their cell phones. While I’m not totally clear on the timeframe, WiBro has been in the works for around the same time if not longer than WiMax. It is a technology developed in Korea as a mobile broadband wireless technology. But since it is based on OFDM, like WiMax, and since it became clear that Korea would become perhaps the only country to deploy WiBro, the two camps are now working together to ensure interoperability of WiBro and 802.16e. For a bit more information, read a general overview of WiBro that TheFeature ran late last year.
Gunma University in Japan is testing a Firetide mesh network: The network will link surveillance cameras in parks. The university has tried other wireless networks but the networks didn’t work well because of dense foliage in the area. The university hopes to place nodes around the dense foliage to overcome the problem.
According to Telephony magazine, Speakeasy is to launch its broadband wireless network in Seattle next month: Speakeasy announced last year that it had received an investment from Intel and would target Seattle for its first broadband wireless launch. Curiously, Speakeasy continues to hold out on revealing the name of its equipment vendor. I’ve asked a number of times and last year the company said it would release the name in November. I recently asked Speakeasy again for the name and was again told that they aren’t ready to spill the beans. I’m not quite sure why it’s such a secret.
Speakeasy is interested in WiMax as a way to reduce its reliance on other providers. Speakeasy mainly resells access from Covad. While working with Covad allows Speakeasy to avoid working with the major telcos, Covad has had its share of problems which likely proves worrisome for Speakeasy.
Outside of Seattle, Speakeasy says it will target markets it doesn’t already reach. It will pledge to turn on service for customers within 48 hours of an order, a major improvement over the landline players.
This article also points to rumors that the Intel investment in Speakeasy was around $3 million. Speakeasy claims that it was planning on building the Seattle network before the Intel investment.
The WiMax Forum said it plans to work with ETSI on regulatory and technical requirements: ETSI is the European non-profit institute that makes telecom standards and works toward global harmonization. The 3GPP was started by ETSI. The 3GPP decides on the technologies that can be used within a certain frequency band and individual regulatory bodies often decide to take the 3GPP recommendations. For example, IPWireless’ technology is part of the 3GPP family of standards so most European countries allow 3G spectrum owners to deploy IPWireless technology. WiMax is not part of the 3GPP family so in most European countries a 3G operator would not be allowed to deploy WiMax.
This cooperation between the WiMax Forum and ETSI could be helpful in the WiMax industry’s efforts to ensure that the 2.5 GHz band can be used for WiMax. The European countries plan to allocate the 2.5 GHz band by 2008 but they haven’t yet decided which technologies they’ll allow there. The 2.5 GHz band was originally promised as a 3G extension band and so the powerful mobile operators are lobbying hard to prevent that band from being used by WiMax operators.
Investor’s Business Daily says that WiMax’s delays has changed the marketplace for gear: It’s hammered the stock of companies poised to be early entrants, and that are now selling so-called pre-WiMax gear that uses standards and technology similar to what will be certified in July. While the delay of a year from the original timetable to get WiMax certification finished hasn’t dimmed interest in products based on the technology, it means that Alvarion and Airspan among others face a much larger competitive landscape when gear finally ships.
The article manages to perpetuate two common errors, unfortunately. First, it fails to distinguish between the IEEE’s standards work that resulted in 802.16-2004 (encompassing everything but 802.16e, the mobile WiMax flavor) and WiMax certification. The IEEE doesn’t certify, and the article draws an analogy with Wi-Fi that has the same flaw. But the writer rightly notes that certification is yet to come.
The second error is that the initial WiMax products will compete with Wi-Fi. That’s still probably two years away. Initial WiMax equipment will walk and talk like existing pre-WiMax gear: it’s meant for excellent fixed point-to-multipoint coverage using customer premises equipment or CPEs.
Carriers aren’t discouraged by the delays. If anything, this article implies that they’re doing more testing with equipment from more vendors given that they have had more time to figure out their ultimate plan.
The Register reports that 802.16e was the focus at the WiMax Summit in Paris: The mobile version of WiMax seems to be getting a lot of attention these days. That’s ironic, given that mobility was an afterthought to the original intent to develop the WiMax standard. However, it appears that now 802.16d developers are working on adding extra capabilities to their initial products in an effort to drive interest in them prior to the introduction of 802.16e. Proprietary extensions always can threaten the benefits of having a standard because they usually don’t allow for interoperability. WiMax vendors will have to be careful about that or risk losing momentum. The story also reports that many of the chip vendors are working to ensure that their current chips will be software upgradeable to 802.16e.
Intel is again pushing unreal timeframes and generalities about WiMax: Intel is saying that 802.16e will arrive shortly. The standard isn’t even complete so shortly is pretty far from the truth. Intel is also saying that WiMax-capable laptops will be available next year, a time frame that also sounds wishful to me.
But Sean Maloney’s statements about 3G are comical. He says that 3G is a fragmented technology with no global standard. In fact, 3G has two global standards and a fairly unified spectrum position. Talk about fragmented—the closest thing that WiMax will have in the short term to a single implementation is networks that operate in the 3.5 GHz band, a spectrum that is spottily available around the globe. Often, different spectrum bands will require different so-called WiMax profiles, which may not be interoperable. There is activity now to try to free up 2.5 GHz in many parts of the world for a more unified WiMax approach, but that initiative is in quite early days and because it involves regulators around the world is likely to take a very long time to get in order. The WiMax market is incredibly fragmented because there is no unified spectrum approach to it on a global basis.
That’s not to say that the standard doesn’t have worth. Vendors will be able to cut their costs by using many of the same components for equipment that operates in different bands. However, it’s like the pot calling the kettle black for Maloney to diss 3G for being fragmented.
Alvarion issued a press release about a trial O2 conducted in Ireland: I wrote about the trial in January (no permalink, scroll down to January 27 posts). While Pat O’Connell at O2 told me that the company was generally happy with the trial, just as Alvarion notes in the press release, he was also a bit more candid with me about the reality of WiMax. O’Connell was personally skeptical about how soon and how broadly we might see significant WiMax networks. He also offered me an anecdote about the WiMax antenna blowing off the mast—a very real hazard involved in the building of broadband wireless networks.
Altitude Telecom, the owner of a 3.5 GHz national license in France, has plans to introduce voice services this June: Altitude’s network uses gear from Alvarion that is aimed at earning WiMax certification. The voice services will be marketed to enterprise customers in three markets and a consumer service will follow.
Operators are increasingly talking about or introducing voice services over broadband wireless. It’s an indication that VoIP has matured and that the operators will need to offer a bundle in order to be competitive with the fixed line incumbents.
Benson Online built a network in Tanzania using Navini’s technology: About 2,000 modems are currently in use. The operator is seeking government approval to start offering voice services on the network. Navini plans to be compatible with 802.16e.
I have to admit, this is incredibly speculative but could become interesting: IDT announced that it appointed John Petrillo, a former AT&T VP, as CEO of IDT Spectrum. The press release makes it sound like IDT Spectrum is just being formed, but this story from 2003 also describes the formation of an IDT subsidiary that sounds the same. IDT Spectrum claims to be the largest holder of high frequency licenses in the U.S. Those licenses came primarily from Winstar, the failed LMDS operator. EuroTelcoblog reports that Petrillo was involved with Mesh Networks, which recently was bought by Motorola. It’s unclear if Petrillo will continue to lead IDT Spectrum’s leasing business or if IDT, which operates a variety of telecom businesses including one that offers low-cost local, long distance, and calling card services in the U.S., has plans to actually use some of the LMDS spectrum itself.
Navini announced a PC card for broadband wireless that operates in the 3.5 GHz band: While Navini doesn’t call it WiMax, presumably the card is aimed at supporting WiMax. Navini is a member of the WiMax Forum. Most of the first generation certified WiMax equipment won’t include PC cards. Instead, subscriber units will include external modems. Offering a PC card with the first generation product can give a vendor the edge over other suppliers but not all operators are interested in making a portable offering.
NextWeb said its network now covers 50,000 additional people around Los Angeles: Further expansion in the area is in the works. NextWeb is also working to expand its BANC group to the region. NextWeb started up the group in the San Francisco area so that broadband wireless operators could work together to avoid interfering with each other.
This announcement is quite difficult to decipher: But ADP Telecom is using equipment from Alcatel for a trial aimed at determining how WiMax might work instead of Wi-Fi as a wireless access solution with a broader coverage area in airports. The trial will allow potential users ranging from baggage handlers, car rental services, check-in desks, and passengers to access the network. ADP is particularly interested in the nomadic capabilities of WiMax.
On a side note, my favorite word in the press release is “complementarity.” I don’t think it’s a real word in English, but it ought to be.
The Swiss telecom authority is entertaining comments regarding spectrum allocation in order to decide on how to license certain broadband wireless spectrum: The 3.5 GHz and 5.7 GHz bands are to be licensed for use by wireless local loop as well as mobile and fixed broadband access, including WiMax. The German regulator also recently began considering the issue. One of the biggest issues with opening up spectrum in Europe that could be used for WiMax will be the restrictions users might have. Historically, European operators have been very specific about precisely which technologies can be used in certain frequencies. Also, countries so far seem to vary on whether they will allow spectrum users to deploy mobile networks for fear of competition with the 3G operators that hold a lot of weight and spent billions on spectrum licenses.
Apparently the 802.16 and 802.22 groups both have their sights on the 900 MHz band in the U.S.: The 802.22 group was founded to create regional area networks using unused TV channels. But the 802.16 camp believes that its mission is also to support a technology for wide area networks and it would also like to use the 900 MHz band. Both groups seem to be vying for the band or at least hoping to ensure that they can coexist.
The 900 MHz band is prime spectrum because signals can travel far and more easily penetrate walls than some of the higher frequencies. While it sounds like a great opportunity for potential WiMax operators, it could also be a band that is only used in the U.S. or possibly a few other regions in the world. That means operators would have to request that vendors make radios specifically for the band, loosing some of the benefits of economies of scale.
KPN and T-Mobile appear to have won 26 GHz licenses in the Netherlands: The spectrum band is known as LMDS in the U.S. and a bunch of companies famously raised millions of dollars to build high-speed data networks to serve businesses and subsequently most went under. So it will be interesting to watch what these operators use the spectrum for. T-Mobile, an investor in Flarion, conducted a Flarion trial in the Netherlands, but using the 2.1 GHz 3G spectrum. T-Mobile has also been an aggressive user of Wi-Fi, so it appears the company is willing to take the lead with new wireless technologies.
Dishnet Wireless plans to spend US$57 million to rollout national Wi-Fi hotspot network in India via WiMax: The firm wants to jumpstart service ahead of rivals which are committed to wireline operations. Dishnet will use WiMax (or pre-WiMax, more likely until certification) to handle backhaul among a potential 6,000 Wi-Fi hotspots. By next March, they will link up 38 cities, starting with Bangalore. The owner of Dishnet Wireless sold a wireline DSL business (Dishnet DSL) to a former government-owned Internet provider. He also has an interest in the Barista coffee chain which will offer Dishnet Wireless service.
Om Malik has more detail from another article on the subject, too: eight cities will have service with 60 days, and it will cost about US$7 per month for basic service. Speeds will range from 128 Kbps to 1 Mbps. The Hindu newspaper notes that a test installation with five WiMax (misnomer) nodes served 150 people during a trial period. Om also points out that Alcatel will be developing WiMax in an Indian facility that one article estimates will employ 1,000 people.
New Zealand is accepting applications for licenses in the 3.5 GHz band: The band has become available in many European countries and is being used for fixed broadband wireless. The band will be the first that WiMax standard gear will operate in.
While there are plenty of factual errors in this piece, the author comes to a possibly accurate conclusion: To start with some of the errors, WiMax isn’t actually “here” yet. Equipment that is likely to pass WiMax certification is available, but nothing has been certified. That means that no one is really yet benefiting from economies of scale or interoperability. Also, WiMax doesn’t only use unlicensed frequencies. In fact, in Europe it is most likely to be used in the licensed bands. In the U.S., it could be used in the MMDS band.
But beyond the factual mistakes, the conclusion in this article may be correct. WiMax is likely to become a great lower-cost connectivity option for small businesses. It’s also likely to be used by small to medium-sized operators and even large operators, though potentially in a limited fashion.
But the vision of WiMax as a mobile solution is indeed quite far off. One challenge that I don’t think gets much attention is that operators that deploy fixed WiMax networks won’t have an easy transition to a mobile offering—and that’s if they are even interested in a mobile solution. The networks they build now won’t be architected for mobility so the evolution to mobility involves a new network plan, not just an upgrade of base stations. Also, in the meantime, other technologies are moving full steam ahead to offer mobile broadband, including the ever evolving 3G and potentially technologies like Flarion’s and IPWireless’. That means that when mobile WiMax arrives, the market may have changed enough to make it irrelevant.