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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.
Posted by Glennf at October 20, 2007 7:14 AM
Are all the "WiBro" systems now being deployed in Korea actually just WiMax systems but using the WiBro as a service name?
[Editor's note: More or less. That wasn't true in 2004, but the WiBro backers were involved in 802.16e (which became 802.16e-2005), and WiBro pretty much fits into one of the profiles that the WiMax Forum will certify. So, technically, it's not precisely mobile WiMax, but it's become more a matter of semantics than testing at this point.-gf]
Posted by: Futurize Korea at October 22, 2007 5:24 PM
Aren't you nitpicking? A single WiMax base station (or, as the general public would say, an antenna) is supposed to provide coverage for a 'broader' area than the single WiFi equivalent. That's the important part, not the theoretical usefulness of installing a Wifi transmitter every 50 feet. And as a frustrated attempted user of muni wifi, that's the difference I find most compelling.
[Editor's Note: Wi-Fi can provide seamless coverage, and does so in many businesses and even homes. Some large-scale Wi-Fi networks have been designed for appropriate spacing (not 50 feet; that's a fake standard number you see all the time) and offer seamless service.
The point is not whether Wi-Fi networks have been deployed extensively that meet this definition, but rather the capability. There are no mobile WiMax networks in commercial deployment, so it's speculative in the same sense until those are in production, too.
You can build seamless Wi-Fi networks of all scales; it's technologically feasible, but may not be financially justifiable for city-wide coverage.-gf]
Posted by: Howard at October 22, 2007 11:34 AM