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The story is a bit complex, but it’s apparently a first: Nortel, Kyocera Wireless, and Runcom worked together to create the lab conditions to place a call using MIMO-equipped WiMax equipment. It’s all prototype gear, but it involved three different firms working together to produce the call, which included voice and streaming video. Nortel is heavily pushing MIMO-based WiMax; current WiMax standards don’t require MIMO, but there’s an expectation that it will be a significant part of wide-scale rollouts within a few years. MIMO buys you frequency reuse and greater range with relatively few penalties compared to simple omnidirectional antennas.
Zyxel will offer a mobile WiMax CPE that also supports Wi-Fi and VoIP: These subscriber units are designed to receive a signal and then redistribute service via Wi-Fi without requiring two boxes. An indoor unit, the MAX-200H, has a four-port Ethernet switch; an outdoor version, the MAX-300, is ruggedized. The company also offers a mobile WiMax CPE with a SIP VoIP port and a PC Card. The product will ship later this year.
The UK firm has rolled out its Skylink service across Kent in Southeast England: The service provides up to 10 Mbps of service in each direction along with VoIP. The fiber/wireless backbone crosses 1,300 square kilometers, 675,000 households, and 60,000 businesses.
The symmetric offering is critical, Telabria says in its press release, because it’s so seldom available. Businesses need upstream bandwidth to serve Web pages, transfer huge documents, and push material out to clients, customers, and the general public. The company offers 1.5 Mbps to 10 Mbps at distances of up to 12.5 miles from a base station.
Skylink offers 1.5 Mbps symmetric for £49.99 per month and 3 Mbps for £79.99 per month. Premium symmetric services are £249 for 5 Mbps and £369 for 10 Mbps. Residential asymmetric services include 1.5 Mbps (£24.99) and 3 Mbps (£34.99) downstream with 512 Kbps upstream.
A full variety of VoIP options for personal and business use are also available as overlays.
The service uses 5.8 GHz bandwidth and pre-WiMax gear which Telabria is referring to as “WiMax-class” equipment. Since WiMax devices aren’t certified yet, it’s all about performance rather than interoperability.
Telabria has also installed 74 Wi-Fi hotspots. Skylink subscribers will have free access to those locations, some of which are in London and the rest throughout the Southeast.
TowerStream is offering Vonage voice over IP service to customers: An increasing number of broadband wireless operators like TowerStream are offering voice services. It’s an important capability because in many cases it means the customer can completely sever its relationship with the telcos.
Voice services will add to revenues for broadband wireless operators but only initially, said Caroline Gabriel, research director at Rethink Research. Operators will have to invest in supporting voice and voice will quickly become commoditized, she said. “It will be essential to offer but it might not affect the business model [for operators] much beyond the first year,” she said.
Bell Canada is enabling voice over a broadband wireless network in Alberta: Bell Canada uses wired and wireless links to serve customers and is deploying a product from DragonWave that will enable voice over IP over the wireless network. There’s not a lot of detail here so it’s unclear if customers will be business users or residential customers. The announcement isn’t online yet but ought to appear here eventually.
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.
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.
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.
Broadband wireless vendor Airspan said it is acquiring a voice over IP company: Airspan is acquiring ArelNet for $8.7 million. Airspan recently introduced a product line that it hopes will pass the WiMax standardization process. This acquisition will allow Airspan to support voice services on its networks.
Update: This announcement was actually first made in December, when the companies signed a “letter of intent” for Airspan to make the purchase. Today, the companies signed a “definitive purchase agreement” which is still subject to the usual approvals.
One Vonage customer says that Clearwire is blocking the voice over IP service: This is clearly a defensive move by Clearwire but surely won’t do much as far as endearing itself to customers. Clearwire recently said that Bell Canada would supply voice services to Clearwire broadband wireless customers. Apparently Clearwire wants to ensure that its customers that want voice services buy the service from Clearwire and no one else. While it’s understandable, it won’t help Clearwire to promote its image as a champion of competitive providers.
The FCC recently ruled that Madison River Communications, a telephone and DSL provider, had to stop blocking Vonage and pay a fine for doing so previously. But Mobile Pipeline reports that it’s not clear if the FCC could make a similar ruling against Clearwire because Clearwire isn’t a local telephone company.
US Wireless Online, a wireless ISP, is launching a voice service: The offering is initially available in Columbus, Ohio, and will later become available in the rest of US Wireless Online’s 11-state territory. Voice has increasingly been a central topic in the WiMax market. Voice can be a really critical offering for wireless operators because it means that they can serve as a one stop shop for businesses which can order all their voice and data services from a single source. That edge may be growing increasingly important as it becomes clear that the initial WiMax equipment won’t be as low-cost as initially hoped. That means the operators won’t be able to so severely undercut their wireline competitors so perhaps services like voice will offer them an extra tool for attracting customers.
TowerStream, a wireless ISP in the U.S., plans to launch a beta service in New York City that will allow mobile voice over IP over Wi-Fi (the press release isn’t available online yet): The beta follows a trial that TowerStream completed in Rhode Island. The hotspots will be backhauled using TowerStream’s existing broadband wireless network and users can move from the coverage of one access point to the next without the call dropping.
A Mobile Pipeline story reports that TowerStream will initially deploy 10 hotspots. In order to support the mobility aspect which is the interesting part of this trial, those hotspots will have to be clustered pretty closely together, meaning that customers won’t have far to roam.
I’m skeptical of where TowerStream is going with this. I believe that it’s possible to support seamless handoffs between hotspots, but it just sounds like such a bear to enable this kind of capability over Wi-Fi, especially considering the relatively small range of a single access point.
An executive is quoted in the press release thus: “Using advanced handsets, consumers will soon have access to high-speed data capabilities and enhanced voice features never seen on a mobile phone before.” I wonder what kinds of fantastic and superior applications will be developed for such an offering, given that countless companies across the globe have been working on cellular data offerings for years now. It would also take a company like TowerStream quite a long time to build a comprehensive network remotely comparable in coverage to any cell phone operator in any given city, so it’s unclear how useful such capabilities might be.
While it’s interesting to be able to demonstrate this type of offering, I think that TowerStream is taking an unusual approach to it. The exercise sounds to me a bit like TowerStream thumping its chest in an effort to intimidate cellular operators in the midst of ongoing debates comparing WiMax to HSDPA or other technologies the cellular operators are deploying. It may have been better to launch the trial and get people using it as a demonstration that mobile can be accommodated in Wi-Fi and ultimately WiMax as a taste of what’s to come without making such sweeping statements.
In-Stat reports that WiMax operators will need to bundle voice into their service offerings: That’s because the biggest potential markets for WiMax are in regions that don’t just lack broadband Internet access but also plain old telephone services.
In-Stat also includes an interesting figure in its study. It estimates that a WiMax network covering 98 percent of U.S. homes would cost about $3 billion, including equipment, towers, and other ancillary costs. I would think that a network with that extensive reach would cost quite a bit more than that, but itís not clear if In-Stat includes labor in its figure.
AirSpan bought ArelNet, a company that has developed switching and gateway systems for voice over IP (VoIP) networks: AirSpan expects the purchase to help it support VoIP services.
Incumbent operators should take notice of the interest that WiMax vendors are showing in supporting VoIP. If end users can rely on WiMax connections for voice and data, there’s no need for the incumbent.