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Navini bought by Cisco for $330m: The deal puts late-entrant Cisco yet again into the fray of another wireless “revolution.” Cisco bought Airespace in 2005 to assume one of the top positions in the wireless LAN switch market. The Navini acquisition gives them worldwide customers of mobile WiMax technology before the big rollout here in the US by Sprint Nextel (we still assume) and Clearwire. Navini has a range of non-WiMax products, too, which work in popular frequency bands worldwide, and come with CPEs and PC Cards for end users.
C-motech will use Wavetech’s chips for an ExpressCard format WiMax adapter, but only for older, fixed networks: This is the first ExpressCard WiMax adapter I’m aware of, but it’s only compatible with the older 802.16-2004 protocol, also known as fixed WiMax, which requires point-to-multipoint transmitter focused on receiving locations. The utility could be to allow nomadic access within a covered area as an alternative to Wi-Fi, but I fail to see the real potential here.
This isn’t a critique specifically of this New York Times reporter, but it’s a good example of how WiMax isn’t understood or explained correctly: WiMax has a set of distinct advantages—advantages that have yet to be proven in the market and in physical reality—that are generally poorly explained by those outside the industry. This was true in Wi-Fi’s early days, when its attributes and abilities were often distorted through a combination of company hype and lack of technical knowledge on the part of reporters. As Wi-Fi hit mainstream, and reporters became familiar with its limits through hands-on use and a greater body of more understandable knowledge, reporting became more accurate, too.
In this Times article, Victoria Shannon repeats a few misconceptions that were spread early on.
“WiMax, a wireless technology that allows Internet and other data connections across much broader areas than Wi-Fi…” Not true. WiMax is a more flexible way to cover the same area, potentially at lower cost relative to bandwidth, and at much greater reliability. Wi-Fi can, in fact, cover any given area, but finding the right places to mount receivers, which must necessarily be of much greater number because of the lower power limits, is quite hard.
The ITU endorsement this article covers—802.16 being added to the IMT-2000 family of 3G standards—“opens the way for many of the union’s member countries to devote a part of the public radio spectrum to WiMax,” she writes. Not quite. It opens the way for the member countries to use existing 3G spectrum for WiMax. Before this, WiMax wouldn’t have been allowed in pure 3G allocations. New spectrum can be allotted, too, of course.
“Unlike Wi-Fi, this mobile Internet technology can hand off a signal from antenna to antenna, thus allowing a device to hold a connection while in motion.” Those are two different issues. Wi-Fi can also hand off signals among base stations (not antennas, though I see why that term is used here), but it’s not designed for mobility. There’s been a lot of work in that regard to allow people talking on handsets while walking around in a company setting to not have a pause or drop the call. But that’s a far cry from the WiMax’s design, which is supposed to handle automotive connections.
“WiMax potentially can move data at 70 megabits a second across 65 kilometers, or 40 miles. Current fixed-line broadband connections have speeds of about 2 megabits a second.” A strange set of comparisons. To work at 70 Mbps, WiMax would need to use an extremely large spectrum hunk, and it’s unlikely that any provider would deploy in that fashion. It’s a design maximum, not how it will be deployed. The distance and speed are interrelated properties: You can not obtain 70 Mbps at 40 miles from a base station. The other part of this odd comparison, is that wireline broadband can achieve 50 Mbps or faster in the same theoretical, not-yet-deployed world in which WiMax is being discussed. There are cable standards in the field and DSL that’s not far off that can reach those rates. A more typical current range of rates is 3 Mbps to 8 Mbps for DSL and cable.
What’s interested about WiMax, that’s never mentioned in mainstream business reporting, is that it’s used typically in exclusively licensed spectrum for highly coordinated purposes. Wi-Fi is a free-for-all; WiMax is a pretty ballet. WiMax allows extraordinarily granular provisioning of the data among customers akin to how cell networks work; future cell networks will work much more like WiMax, too.
So it’s the flexibility, provisioning, and mobility that makes mobile WiMax a technology that many providers are planning to roll out or considering. It can be used at very high speeds, if you have the spectrum, over fairly decent areas; it can be used at lower speeds at great distances, reducing infrastructure costs to go a long way in one direction; it can be provisioned on the fly to deliver specific amounts of bandwidth to specific customers; and it works in moving vehicles as well.
Mobile WiMax’s inclusion in a global wireless broadband standard means that it can be used over standard bands approved for this purpose: IMT-2000 is a set of five radio standards linked to other elements that have been approved by many different authorities for use over advanced wireless bands in their various countries and regions. The two most popular are W-CDMA (GSM 3G) and CDMA2000 (CDMA 3G). By gaining ITU approval for mobile WiMax (really, 802.16 in this context), this dramatically increases the odds that it can be deployed more widely by not requiring special approval or specific bands. It also provides mobile WiMax as a migration possibility for carriers that haven’t yet deployed 3G.
Early mobile WiMax profiles from the WiMax Forum cover 2.3 GHz, 2.5 GHz, and 3.5 GHz, the most common currently available bands worldwide. (5.4 and 5.8 GHz mobile WiMax isn’t covered by approved profiles, but the same technology may be used on those bands as on the profiled bands.)
The news was made public on a mailing list for those involved with IEEE 802.16 by Roger Marks, the working group’s chair.
Clearwire started selling its nomadic PC Card today for its current flavor of pre-WiMax service: The card sells for $230 or can be leased for $7 per month. Service is 1.5 Mbps down and 256 Kbps, and costs $60 per month. If you want both home and nomadic service, it’s $95 per month including all modem rental fees, with an introductory $80 per month rate for three months. The home service is $45 per month when sold separately, so it’s a good deal.
This service is nomadic, meaning that while it might work when in motion, it’s designed for fixed operation within the service area.
It’s time to ask the question after the resignation this afternoon of Gary Forsee as chairman and CEO of Sprint Nextel: What becomes of WiMax? Sprint Nextel’s giant leap and giant spectrum holdings led to Intel, Motorola, and Samsung committing to technology previously only on the roadmap in the U.S. of startup Clearwire. Forsee certainly led the move into WiMax as Sprint’s 4G technology of choice. With his departure, prompted by shareholder complaints in the face of subscriber defections, lackluster revenue, and a long wait for a payoff of the current plans, will WiMax survive on the chopping block?
Sprint conceivably owns several billion dollars worth of 2.5 GHz licenses. I’m not sure how they’re valued in the current marketplace nor how freely transferrable most licenses are. Because Sprint acquired most of its licenses outside of the educational market, they may have substantially fewer constraints on transferring them.
The company is still coping with the ongoing liabilities associated with sorting out their scattered spectrum holdings that Nextel pledged to pull together to create contiguous ranges for public safety. That’s in disarray, with costs far higher than anticipated, and Sprint Nextel holding firm and delaying plans.
If Sprint focused on its partnership with cell companies, recommitted to the EVDO 3G to 4G roadmap, and sold its 2.5 GHz holdings, perhaps that would satisfy investors and put them back on the map as a competitor. But it’s hard for me to see the advantage. Who would buy the holdings? Another carrier, ostensibly. Clearwire has $1b in the bank, hardly enough to buy all of Sprint’s licenses. (Clearwire and Sprint are past the 90 days predicted to finalize their complementary network and roaming deal, too.)
As might be recalled, a good hunk of the 2.5 GHz that Clearwire and Sprint Nextel “own” is sublet from academic and other institutions which originally received allocations for distance learning, among other purposes: Ah for the days when sweet, prime spectrum was given away without a purpose being set in stone. Congress allowed the institutions that were granted these licenses to sell them as a sort of non-auction backdoor that’s resulted in the holdings primarily in the hands of Sprint Nextel and Clearwire today.
Many institutions apparently forgot they had the spectrum, and has the value has become known have filed renewal notices, both on time and late. Apparently, some lapsed licenses if renewed would impinge on other coverage areas, which doesn’t exactly make sense to me since 2.5 GHz licenses were assigned on a frequency and geographically divided basis. There must have been some multiple licenses in the same areas who were supposed to work out conflicts.
Clearwire, which has more of these licenses, Marketwatch reports, wants the expired licenses renewed, because, they say, that would speed the way to getting that spectrum in use. Sprint not so much, as they apparently think they have an advantage in their spectrum portfolio. Clearwire and Sprint will build out a network jointly, if the government approves, but I imagine revenue splits and roaming may be based on coverage areas. The less Clearwire has, the more Sprint can sell to what would have been Clearwire customers.
This article also notes that a lawsuit against the Peralta Community College District was settled with Peralta receiving more fees than originally agreed to. Peralta had alleged a side agreement with Clearwire that would have provided more than the main agreement promised. The suit was filed in mid-2006. The license was their only viable San Francisco Bay Area spectrum at the time.