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24/7 mobile data availability comes ever closer as WiMax takes on 3G

October 24th, 2008 · No Comments

WiMax, a souped up version of WiFi (sort off), has been a promising technology for years to deliver wireless data at fixed locations (competing with cable and DSL), and in a second generation even taking on mobile data (taking on the 3G technologies of the telecom operators). In fact, in the latter capacity it can also take on their mobile phone business, calls can be repackaged over the internet and send wirelessly over WiMax. The technology had its sceptics, but the first US network is quite promising..

WiMax is a wireless data technology with a much broader range than WiFi. Where WiFi is restricted to the home or local environment, WiMax can cover whole cities with just a few base stations. This could set it up against existing technologies, and the results of this competition can only benefit the consumer.

First, the sceptics:

Australian WiMAX pioneer trashes technology as “miserable failure”
March 20th, 2008 in CommsDay Australasia | login or register to post comments | email this story

  • Australia’s first WiMAX operator, Hervey Bay’s Buzz Broadband, has closed its network, with the CEO labeling the technology as a “disaster” that “failed miserably.”
  • In an astonishing tirade to an international WiMAX conference audience in Bangkok yesterday afternoon, CEO Garth Freeman slammed the technology, saying its non-line of sight performance was “non-existent” beyond just 2 kilometres from the base station, indoor performance decayed at just 400m and that latency rates reached as high as 1000 milliseconds. Poor latency and jitter made it unacceptable for many Internet applications and specifically VoIP, which Buzz has employed as the main selling point to induce people to shed their use of incumbent services.
  • Freeman highlighted his presentation with a warning to delegates, saying “WiMAX may not work.” He said that the technology was still “mired in opportunistic hype,” pointing to the fact most deployments were still in trials, that it was largely used by start-up carriers and was supported by “second-tier vendors”, which he contrasted with HSPA with 154 commercial networks already in operation and support from top tier vendors.
  • What made Freeman’s presentation most extraordinary was that just 12 months ago he fronted the same event with a generally positive appraisal of the platform which at that stage he had deployed just a few months before. At the time, Freeman said that his company had signed 10% of its 55,000 user target market in just two months, a market share that rose to 25%, on the back of an advertising campaign that highlighted value VoIP prices.
  • He did acknowledge at the time that the technology had indoor coverage issues, which he yesterday said had earned him a quick and negative reaction at the time from his supplier, Airspan. Other early WiMAX adopters have also reported issues with indoor coverage: VSNL in India reported indoor loss at just 200m from the base station at an IEEE conference last year.
  • HORSES FOR COURSES: Freeman says Buzz has now abandoned WiMAX in favour of a “horses for courses” policy. This includes use of the TD-CDMA standard at 1.9GHz—used by operators such as New Zealand’s Woosh Wireless—and a platform he described as wireless DOCSIS– a relatively little known technology that takes HFC plant and extends its capabilities via wireless mesh. He said wireless DOCSIS operates at up to 38Mbps in the 3.5GHz spectrum and its customer premises equipment supported two voice ports for under $A70 while it boasted “huge cell coverage.” He also was employing more conventional wireless mesh platforms at 2.4GHz that support up to 10Mbps with CPE voice ports costing less than A$80.
  • Despite his problems with WiMAX, Freeman is a believer that competitors should operate their own infrastructure and not depend on Telstra unbundled or wholesale offerings. Prior to Buzz he was involved in the rollout of regional Victorian HFC networks as an executive with Neighborhood Cable. He says the use of wireless is essential in Hervey Bay, because ADSL is blocked to 80% of the population because of Telstra’s use of pairgain and RIMs, while what ADSL ports are available  are now largely exhausted. But years of successive government policies had weakened the case for standalone infrastructure, beginning with restrictive policies in the pay television market which he said undermined independent HFC deployments.
  • “I’m against government micromanagement of the market. Government should start to provide a conducive investment environment.”
  • Not all WiMAX operators are unhappy.
  • Internode says an Airspan-supplied network is providing consistent average speeds of 6Mbps at distances up to 30km, with CEO Simon Hackett describing the platform as “proven.”
  • Freeman’s frank words left many at the WiMAX event looking uncomfortable but none more so than his co-panelist Adrian de Brenni representing Opel Networks. De Brenni, standing in for an absent Jason Horley, said little new about Opel that hasn’t already been discussed, except to state that QoS would be a product feature of the future Opel wholesale offering “including voice.”

However, experiences have not been so negative in other cases, most notably:

Baltimore’s New WiMAX Service Flies Where Wi-Fi Flops
The wireless technology from Sprint Nextel and Clearwire is faster than 3G, ultra-reliable, and a promising alternative for home Internet

  • Can something called WiMAX succeed where other technologies have failed and bring us ultrafast anytime-anywhere wireless data? A couple of years ago promoters said municipal Wi-Fi would do the job, but projects from San Francisco to Philadelphia have been abandoned or scaled back after smashing into economic and technical realities.
  • The fast 3G networks currently offered by the likes of Verizon Wireless and AT&T (T) are a step up from EDGE and other second-generation networks. But they still offer only limited coverage. And while 3G is fast enough to pump Web pages to iPhones and other smartphones, it can be painfully slow feeding the bigger data appetites of laptops, whose users expect to stream music and watch video. And it is pricey, typically $60 a month for a computer connection.
  • WiMAX is the latest wireless ­technology to come on the scene, using very smart physics to achieve extra-high speeds. XOHM, a joint venture of Sprint Nextel (S) and Clearwire (CLWR), has just switched on the first U.S. commercial WiMAX net-work in Baltimore. I took a trip there with a new WiMAX-ready Lenovo (LNVGY) ThinkPad X301 to try it. The experience left me encouraged by the promise of this fourth-generation wireless technology.
  • XOHM claims average download rates of 2 to 4 megabits per second. When I ran some commercial speed tests, I consistently got downloads at about 3 mb and uploads at 500 kb and 1 mb. That’s a bit slower than typical cable service, especially on the download side, but significantly faster than most DSL lines and about three times faster than what I have usually seen on 3G data networks. Perhaps most important, it’s fast enough for good-quality video. While someone else drove me around Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood, I was able to watch Hulu.com’s broadcast-quality video with no freezes or pauses to wait for data.
  • If you happen to live in Baltimore—in the two-thirds of the city that currently has WiMAX coverage—you can get XOHM on-the-go service for $30 a month for six months, rising to $45 after that. At-home service, which requires the purchase of an $80 modem, costs $25 a month, going to $35 after six months. You can combine both services for $50 a month, guaranteed for as long as you maintain the service. XOHM is also available on a month-to-month basis with no contract required, or you can purchase daily service for $10.
  • XOHM behaves like a 3G network in important ways. Once you’ve signed up, your computer will automatically connect to XOHM without the need for any sort of login. And since WiMAX is a cellular technology, your Internet connection moves from one cell tower to the next as you drive. In my test, these handoffs were seamless.
  • WiMAX, like Wi-Fi before it, will require coordination among computermakers. Intel (INTC), which has invested a couple billion dollars in XOHM, is trying to follow its Centrino strategy, which made Wi-Fi a standard, easy-to-use feature in notebooks. The latest Intel laptop chips have WiMAX support baked in, making it cheap and simple for computer companies to add the capability. Lenovo is offering it as a $40 option in four models and plans several more before yearend. Toshiba is building WiMAX into its Satellite U405 laptops.
  • This doesn’t assure success for WiMAX. Verizon and AT&T, as well as wireless carriers throughout Europe, are betting on a related but rival approach called Long Term Evolution (LTE). And XOHM must raise a lot of capital in a difficult environment to build out its network. On the plus side, XOHM has a two-year head start over LTE, since Verizon and AT&T don’t plan to roll out 4G before 2010. XOHM has plenty of spectrum in hand to provide national coverage—far more, in fact, than the 4G bandwidth that AT&T and Verizon bought for nearly $20 billion at a government auction earlier this year.
  • However it plays out, consumers are likely to win. At launch, XOHM is providing faster service at lower cost than 3G networks, and it provides both mobile service and a rival to cable and phone companies for home Internet. That’s enough of a reason for all of us to cheer for WiMAX.

If you are interested in more technical stuff about WiMax, this is a good place to start

Tags: Technology