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eWeek did a really nice job looking at the negative side of WiMax: It’s worth a read. Kudos to the writer who, despite some mistakes, managed to get a slew of people on the record expressing their doubts about WiMax. That’s a tough accomplishment these days—most of the people in the industry who I talk to are largely WiMax cheerleaders.
Still, I’m not sure I’d characterize the attitude from vendors as “lukewarm commitment.” While it’s true that not all the members of the WiMax Forum have actually produced products, there is definitely a healthy ecosystem of vendors working on products.
This article shows that there is still plenty of confusion in the market about WiMax, primarily on two fronts. One is, I am constantly reading stories that say that WiMax is designed to either work on unlicensed or licensed bands. Here, the article initially notes that WiMax is designed for licensed spectrum, making it contingent on the telecom operators. But later the article mentions unlicensed bands. The fact is, WiMax can be built to work across a wide range of unlicensed and licensed frequencies. The Forum has initially identified three bands for official WiMax gear and those bands include both licensed and unlicensed.
Secondly, I think that the Forum really needs to work at defining where WiMax fits in the market among the cellular networks and other wireless technologies like Wi-Fi. It’s not clear that the Forum has a position on that and frankly I haven’t heard a satisfactory description of a future landscape that includes WiMax plus all the other broadband wireless technologies like 3G. Usually, I just find vendors pretty much avoiding my questions of how WiMax fits with 3G.
“Even though the WiMax Forum doesn’t really want to say that WiMax is a competitor to 3G, they all do overlap to some degree,” said Lindsay Schroth, an analyst with the Yankee Group. But 3G is a pretty powerful force in the worldwide market so the Forum is likely not terribly interested in pitting WiMax directly against 3G. But unless the Forum can define WiMax’s position in the market, everyone is going to approach it cautiously.
Bob Metcalfe has become a big fan of the idea of WiMax: One of the main reasons he’s excited about it is because he thinks that WiMax will “light a fire under” ILECs, cable companies, and mobile operators. I hope that he’s right but unfortunately I suspect he’s not. Rather than seeing WiMax networks pop up to compete against those players, it’s likely that those companies will be the ones to build the biggest WiMax networks. In the U.S. at least, they are the companies in the position to build widescale WiMax networks because they control the spectrum and have the big brand names.
The Yankee Group’s Lindsay Schroth agrees that most likely the biggest and strongest WiMax operators will be a telco or a cable company. “People don’t want to hear this because it means staying with the duopoly, but it’s likely it will be them,” she said.
The city of Portsmouth, UK, hopes its mesh network will reduce traffic: The city built a network using Motorola’s MeshNetworks technology. The network allows the transmission of GPS information from buses to bus stops, where potential passengers know how long of a wait they have in store. The city believes that if public transport is more predictable more people will use it, thus reducing traffic on the roads. Other cities in Europe have systems that alert waiting riders about when the next bus or train will arrive, though I’m not sure how the systems work. I was in a couple cities in Germany and Austria recently and found that bus stops in many places have digital signs counting down the minutes to the next bus arrival. Such systems might be wired when used in subways or trains. But the bus systems would have to be wireless.
CoConnect has finished building half of a mesh network in St. George, Utah: It has installed 100 nodes of what is planned to be a 200 node network, which is expected to cover 50,000 potential customers. CoConnect does not seem to be revealing the vendor. Residential customers in range will pay a mere $20 per month for 256 Kbps access.
Pacific Internet is planning to build a WiMax network in Singapore: The ISP has licenses in the 2.5 GHz band, an ideal frequency for launching a portable broadband wireless service. The 3G players in Singapore must be fuming over the fact that this ISP spent just US$1.2 million on the spectrum as compared to the US$60 million spent on 3G spectrum. This is the same issue that has 3G operators in Europe fighting to restrict use of the 2.5 GHz band, which is to be distributed in a few years, to 3G technologies only.
Pacific Internet was part of a trial launched last year in cooperation with MobileOne using broadband wireless gear from Soma. MobileOne also conducted trials of gear from IPWireless and ArrayComm. A couple months ago MobileOne said it would trial WiMax later in the year. Singapore presents a great opportunity for any mobile technology really because its relatively small size allows the potential to cover every inch. It has dense areas though, which presents its own challenges.
An operator is planning to launch broadband wireless in London: Libera is already serving customers in Bristol using gear from Aperto. The London service launch is expected for June or July. It’s definitely a business service, offering 2.5 Mbps throughput for £295 per month. The company has grand ambitions of being the U.K.’s first nationwide WiMax service provider. The Bristol service uses the license-exempt 5.8 GHz frequency and I suspect the operator will use the same elsewhere.
Hunter Communications serves about 200 customers in Oregon using its own fiber network: The operator recently was able to extend its reach by relying on broadband wireless. Hunter also built a Wi-Fi network covering the Medford airport, also using a wireless link for backhaul.
Qualcomm again is on the defensive about Wi-Fi and WiMax: Chief Irwin Jacobs took a jab at WiMax for not actually being available yet. Perhaps he’s forgotten the days when CDMA was being developed, before it was launched. He noted also that operators will continue to use CDMA for quite some time, probably supporting both CDMA and other technologies. This is true, but the writing is on the wall—OFDM-based technologies are the future. Qualcomm clearly agrees, judging from its MediaFlo network which is based on OFDM. Some experts think that Qualcomm’s MediaFlo venture is rooted in the company’s efforts to try to corner a piece of the next generation of network, given CDMA’s waning future.
I also find Jacobs’ comments about Wi-Fi quite amusing. He says that hotspots won’t be necessary once customers can use the higher speed cellular networks. People can use them today but they don’t because even though hotspot subscriptions are expensive, the cellular subscriptions are outrageous.
Adaptix said LG Electronics will use Adaptix channel cards in its WiBro products: WiBro is the Korean mobile broadband wireless standard which eventually should merge with 802.16e. The press release and Adaptix Web sites are pretty heavy on marketing-speak and light on details, but it looks like Adaptix primarily builds software, specifically software defined radio solutions for OFDM-based systems.
This would be a pretty big coup for Adaptix. Given that LG is a Korean company, it’s likely to do some good business selling WiBro gear in Korea. This will also offer Adaptix good experience and something to brag about when trying to make sales in the WiMax world, since WiBro will hit the market before mobile WiMax.
Telephony takes a look at Fujitsu’s WiMax chip: I’m not totally sure why the magazine is running this news story now when Fujitsu introduced the chip about a month ago. Regardless, the story offers some good details about the chip, including that it includes its own Media Access Control and a radio that can be tuned anywhere between 1.75 MHz and 20 MHz. The chip incorporates a wide range of capabilities, which Fujitsu thinks may allow a wider range of companies to enter the WiMax market. Aperto and Terabeam are two companies that say they’ll use the chips.
Terabeam said it will use Fujitsu’s WiMax chip in its TeraMax product line: Terabeam is planning on making TeraMax WiMax compliant. Terabeam made a name for itself back in the boom when it came out with a free space optic line of products, which at the time seemed really space age. The company also managed to attract Dan Hesse, the former head of AT&T Wireless, to lead the company, though he’s no longer with the company. Terabeam is also notable for having bought the remains of Ricochet, which still operates networks in San Diego and Colorado.
Unwired in Australia is talking about how it will migrate to standards-based WiMax: These stories are a bit inaccurate and in some regard aren’t actually reporting on any news. The company currently has deployed a network using Navini’s proprietary technology. While these stories are presented as if it’s news that Unwired has decided to migrate to WiMax, this really is nothing new. Unwired has been talking about WiMax for a while. However, Unwired is now saying it will begin deploying equipment from Navini that can simultaneously support users of Navini’s proprietary technology and the future mobile 802.16e technology. But Unwired is saying that it will be able to move to 802.16e early next year. That will be difficult, seeing as the 802.16e standard isn’t even finalized so it will be some time before 802.16e gear becomes available. However, some vendors are releasing products that they believe will be software upgradeable to 802.16e, once the standard is set. So I’m guessing that Unwired will use gear from Navini that can support both Navini’s proprietary technology and will be able to eventually also support 802.16e.
Unwired has been incredibly successful in Australia. The operator acquired 5,800 new subscribers in March and April this year.
Telabria is launching a broadband wireless trial in Canterbury in the UK: The trial, which will be done with the University of Kent, will use gear from Alvarion and others and will test interoperability. The trial, which will use an R & D license from the regulator, will become commercial later this year, though it’s not clear what spectrum will be used for the commercial service. Part of the goal of the trial is also to test how networks behave using licensed and unlicensed spectrum.
Horizon Wireless plans to build a broadband wireless network in Nigeria: The network will use equipment from Navini and will operate in the 3.5 GHz band. Navini offers mobile or portable broadband wireless services. The company is part of the WiMax Forum but is focusing on the mobile 802.16e standard rather than the fixed version that will be available soon. Navini has a bunch of deployments around the world, mainly in small areas.
I wrote a story recently for Wireless Week and heard some very interesting comments from a major European operator: The mobile operator, which asked not to be named, is conducting a trial of IPWireless gear in Europe. The operator is interested in IPWireless as a fixed broadband solution, not for its mobile capabilities. The operator is already working on 3G and doesn’t really see why it would introduce a separate network like IPWireless, especially since the demand for 3G services isn’t even clear. The market for fixed broadband is very clear though so it makes more sense to target that space.
Also, the spokesperson said that having a broadband fixed network could allow the operator to enable customers to completely do away with their landlines. A lot of customers keep their landline phones only because they are required to in order to get a decent DSL rate. Those customers could fully rely on their mobile phones for voice telephony and use the IPWireless network for broadband access.
The operator has also looked closely at WiMax and while it could be an option in the future, he noted that IPWireless is available today. What WiMax promises to deliver in 2007, IPWireless offers today, he said. The operator doesn’t want to wait until then. It could migrate to WiMax down the road if it becomes a much less expensive option, but the spokesperson doesn’t expect that it will. Or, the operator could begin offering access to the IPWireless network on a mobile basis, building a WiMax network to replace the fixed service.
His comments made me think that the vendors like IPWireless and Flarion might pose more of a threat to WiMax than the WiMax camp might perceive. This is a pretty significant European mobile operator I spoke with and if that’s how his company feels about WiMax, others might too. If the vendors like IPWireless and Flarion manage to attract enough customers, the price of their equipment will drop, just like the price of WiMax equipment will drop with volume. The operators may gamble on which equipment will drop faster.
Intel’s chief called DSL and cable “half-assed,” over-promising WiMax: He told a Reuters reporter that WiMax will deliver 10 Mbps throughput for home users. Maybe he’ll be able to afford that in his home. Currently, that kind of throughput over a wireless connection would price the vast majority of residents out of the market. Speakeasy, which just launched a broadband wireless offering in Seattle, is targeting businesses with an aggregated 6 Mbps service for $800 per month. Towerstream, which offers broadband wireless services in several U.S. cities, offers businesses a 5 Mbps service for $500 per month. In many years his vision may come to fruition, when the cost of equipment drops and the capability improves to increase bandwidth. But with first generation services, operators won’t be able to afford to offer anything like 10 Mbps at a price comparable to DSL or cable.
The industry is increasingly finding the FCC’s rules over the 3.65 GHz band in the United States will make the band only marginally useful: The FCC requires users of the frequency to employ a contention-based protocol. Such a capability is not built in to WiMax, which means operators can’t use WiMax gear in the band. Vendors are working on ways to easily add that capability to WiMax, but so far it doesn’t look like there is an easy way that would allow users to take advantage of the benefits of using a standard.
An ISP called Infoseti is building a broadband wireless network in Moscow: The network will serve enterprises and will be built with equipment from Aperto. The network will be particularly aimed at serving foreign companies with offices in Moscow because those companies may be more accustomed to broadband.
These stories are beginning to become hardly worth linking to: Intel really does a disservice to the market by speaking in such broad terms to the mainstream media, which may not have a thorough grasp of the broadband market. Here, Intel’s Sean Maloney says that real deployments of mobile WiMax won’t start this year. As if that were even a possibility, given that the standard itself isn’t even complete yet. He also says that “most of the world” will get broadband via WiMax. That’s quite a prediction.
Perhaps the most outrageous bit in this article, which isn’t attributed directly to Maloney, is that mobile operators see WiMax as an alternative wireless network to relieve their 3G networks from heavy data use. That is stated like a fact, which it most certainly isn’t. To begin with, 3G networks are hardly even built, let alone full. Also, in some countries like in most of Europe, operators aren’t even allowed to deploy WiMax in their current 3G spectrum because of regulations. Not to mention the fact that WiMax equipment isn’t being built in the 3G frequencies.
The European operators could use different frequencies to build WiMax networks and link those to their 3G networks. However, if they were interested in that they wouldn’t be fighting tooth and nail to prohibit the deployment of WiMax networks in the 2.5 GHz spectrum which is to be opened in Europe in a few years. They are using the bulk of their lobbying might to keep that frequency dedicated solely to 3G technologies.
In a very theoretical sense it’s true that there is the potential in the future to harmonize 3G and WiMax. But that’s so far out that it requires a lot of background to even suggest it. The mobile world has largely settled on OFDM, the air interface that WiMax is based on, for the future mobile platform. But it’s not at all clear if WiMax or a future version of it will fill the needs of the mobile operators. A wholly new standard based on OFDM might instead serve the mobile operators. And while regulations currently prohibit operators in Europe from deploying WiMax in their 3G spectrum, there is a liberalization movement happening that could make it easier for operators to use any technology in any band. But that remains to be seen and regulatory changes are notoriously slow.
AT&T’s CTO talks here about the company’s broadband wireless trial in New Jersey: The network will use an early version of Intel’s WiMax chip but will use the official Rosedale chip later in the year.
He sounds about as confused about where WiMax fits among other wireless technologies as just about everyone else in the industry. He draws a comparison to the cellular world, saying that 802.16 has the potential to be a worldwide standard where such a worldwide standard doesn’t exist in cellular because of both CDMA and GSM. While it’s true that 802.16 has the potential to position OFDM as a worldwide air interface standard, a very significant roadblock is the lack of a common frequency to deploy WiMax in around the globe. That means that global roaming, which wouldn’t happen until the next version of the standard is available anyway, is very far away.
He’s very wishy washy on the topic of WiMax competing against 3G and seems to contradict himself. But at this stage in the development of the next WiMax standard, it’s pretty hard to predict how the technology will be positioned in the market.
Voice over broadband wireless is increasingly in the news these days: A number of operators in the United States are offering the service. Some rely on third parties for some of the capabilities but others are provisioning the service totally on their own. airBand is one operator that finds the quality isn’t quite there yet so it is delivering voice over IP over wireline until it believes the wireless solutions are up to snuff.
Broadband wireless ISP NextWeb launched services in Las Vegas: The network is available to 35,000 companies in the city. This is NextWeb’s first foray outside of California, where it serves customers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and a bunch of towns in between.
Last week Towerstream announced its entrance into the very crowded San Francisco market. It seems a curious market for Towerstream to chase given that San Francisco is notorious for its many broadband wireless service providers. A NextWeb spokesman confirmed recently that Towerstream has not joined the Broadband Access Network Coordination group, an organization started by NextWeb and others so that the operators could work together to minimize interference with each other.
Quite a few stories recently have detailed the many vendors that are already seriously focusing on mobile WiMax, even before the fixed versions are certified: This focus on the future is creating some problems now because some operators are wondering if they should deploy the fixed version when they’ll want to replace it in a couple years with the portable gear. That’s an even larger problem than it may sound because fixed and portable networks will be architected differently, with the portable networks requiring more base stations.
But at the same time the industry is struggling to define exactly where a portable version of WiMax fits among other existing technologies. That’s enough of a problem that the WiMax Forum has actually created a Positioning Task Force whose mission it is to define how the mobile version should be positioned in the market. I suspect that a new phrase is being coined by that group: “personal broadband.” That’s the term the chairman of the task group is using to define WiMax.
A group calling itself WiMaxCoop has been founded in Nashville, Tennessee: The group’s founder aims to encourage businesses and people to come together to finance their own WiMax networks. It’s his response to the lack of total broadband coverage in Nashville. He’s also encouraging other cities to follow a similar course.
This is one way to get a network in town without involving the municipality in a way that has raised the ire of the Bells. It would be hard for the telcos to prevent a coop from building a network. [link via Open Spectrum]
Stratos Global Corp. is offering broadband wireless access mainly to oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico: The network reaches off-shore rigs and production platforms and can provide high speed data services and telephony for far cheaper than satellite-based solutions, which in some cases may have been the only other option. Stratos is using Alvarion’s BreezeAccess equipment.
Dishnet Wireless of India plans to roll out 6,000 hotspots in 38 cities: The hotspots will be backhauled using WiMax. The idea sounds a bit over-ambitious but it’s always encouraging to hear of such wide scale plans. India only recently opened up spectrum for Wi-Fi use and I don’t believe the government has yet designated which spectrum might be used for WiMax so it’s unclear how quickly this project can move forward.
At the Interop trade show, Intel showed off WiMax: Intel used Alvarion gear running its chips to blanket Las Vegas with fixed coverage, including a 12-mile shot into the desert that performed at 7 Mbps.
Update: Unstrung reports that the Alvarion gear was using Atheros chips, not early Intel chips.
Intel and Sprint announced partnership to develop future WiMax in 2.5 GHz: When Sprint completes its merger with Nextel, the company will own most of the commercial 2.5 GHz licenses and a big hunk of the spectrum available nationally. That band is a mess, and while the FCC has proposed ways to redistribute it, none of them appear to be moving forward. It will be a great sandbox for Sprint and Intel to test licensed mobile WiMax in.
Mobile WiMax is probably two years away, with Intel a big backer of the 802.16e standard for ubiquitous access. Mobile WiMax will contend with cell data and it may have superior properties. This is why cell carriers in the US (except T-Mobile) have rapidly developed 3G plans even with inadequate spectrum available.
TowerStream has installed a base station on Nob Hill in San Francisco: The company says they can reach a 10-mile radius with their gear, and offer connections from T-1 up to 100 Mbps speeds. This is their eighth market; their goal is to hit the top 10 in the U.S.
Dramatically, Speakeasy Networks had its formal press announcement for its dense downtown Seattle pre-WiMax network on the observation level: I was there this morning when executives from Speakeasy, Intel, and Alvarion described the components of the new five-building-top pre-WiMax network that blankets downtown Seattle. The network is live today with early customers and will go into a fully available service with 48 hours from order to live network June 15, according to today’s announcement. (View photo gallery on Flickr.)
Speakeasy has been testing this network for months, and securing building rights. They wanted to be the exclusive 5.8 GHz tenant for the buildings they chose to avoid competition for these choice locations. They’re on top of five buildings, which include the Space Needle and the Westin Building, where all of the major telecommunications links for the Pacific Northwest converge.
Unlike TowerStream, which eschews terrestrial wire as much as they can, Speakeasy didn’t build a wireless ring in the air. They’re using their own private fiber-optic connections leased from AboveNet to serve their pre-WiMax feeds. In a shot at TowerStream, the company is describing their network as the largest densest network of its kind.
The company expects to hit a very large zone of downtown Seattle with a single package of an aggregated 6 Mbps of bandwidth for $800 per month. That can be split into 3 Mbps upstream and 3 Mbps downstream, 4 up and 2 down, or 4 down and 2 up. An unlimited bandwidth T-1 line in Seattle (1.5 Mbps in each direction for an aggregate of 3 Mbps) is about $500 to $550 per month. Two T-1s cost double that for equipment, setup, and monthly fees, and involve some networking tricks to turn them into a single fabric.
A T-1 requires about three weeks to install; Speakeasy is promising 48 hours when they launch the service for all-comers June 15. For the next month, they will be selectively signing up interested businesses. The company said that they are trying to bust WiMax myths, and are promising their 6 Mbps aggregate service only within 1 1/2 to 2 miles of a transmitter in a zone they’ve defined very densely.
Speakeasy’s CEO Bruce Chatterley said that Speakeasy is going after “the traditional customer base for the telephone monopolies.” Voice isn’t part of the mix yet because, as Chatterley said later in an interview, pre-WiMax gear isn’t robust enough to support VoIP with business-level quality. When partners Alvarion and Intel, which has also invested in Speakeasy, make available production WiMax gear, Speakeasy will start testing voice applications, said Umesh Amin, Speakeasy vice president in charge of their WiMax Initiative.
Chatterley said that the company has no worries about using the relatively empty 5.8 GHz unlicensed band, although he and Amin noted that licensed spectrum is of great interest whenever it comes available. Both explained their desire for the 2.5 GHz band mostly controlled by Sprint and Nextel, which they hope and expect will be opened up at an unknown point in the future.
Chatterley said in general remarks that the company was on track for $70 million in revenue this year and $100 million next year with 13,000 business customers purchasing DSL and other high-speed services nationwide, or about 15 percent of their customer base. Chatterley noted later that 100 percent of their new DSL customers are being installed on naked DSL, which is a phone line with no phone company services loaded on it.
I asked Chatterley if WiMax customers would be allowed to resell access as Speakeasy has allowed and encouraged with their T-1 and DSL offerings. He said, “We don’t care what you do with your broadband,” and won’t think of WiMax as a different offering from any of their other broadband services.