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WiMax: It's good for a lot more than consumer handsets

How different WiMax products are being used to monitor oil pipelines, run smart grids and keep people from parking outside the provost's house

By Brad Reed, Network World
July 01, 2011 10:30 AM ET

Network World - While WiMax has lost the battle to be the 4G technology of choice for most U.S. consumer handsets, it's still alive and kicking in the enterprise market.

That's because companies have found that WiMax can be an effective wireless data technology for a wide variety of uses besides downloading Angry Birds onto your iPad. WiMax Forum Vice President Mohammad Shakouri says that although major U.S. wireless carriers such as AT&T and Verizon have chosen to deploy LTE over 700MHz spectrum, WiMax will still find a home delivering data for a wide variety of U.S. industries including airports, oil and gas companies and the burgeoning smart grid industry.

"The difference between the WiMax industry and LTE is that WiMax is also going more after complementary solutions," he explains. "You will see WiMax providing communications needs in terms of building things such as the smart grid."

GREATEST TECH ARGUMENTS: WiMax vs. LTE

Smart grid technology is typically defined as any information technology that helps power companies more efficiently monitor demand and allocate capacity. Australian power company SP AusNet is helping its customers install roughly 700,000 WiMax-based smart meters into their homes that will deliver data on power usage to the company over a two-hour window every day to give them better insight on how and when their customers are using energy. The company is about one-third of the way through its smart meter deployment and expects to be finished by 2013.

John Theunissen, the director of smart networks at SP AusNet, says that WiMax delivers significantly more bandwidth than needed to run daily power readings, thus making it an ideal wireless technology for monitoring power usage. He also says that the added bandwidth makes it much easier to get real-time updates to quickly figure out where failures in the network are occurring.

"The thing that was tantalizing for us was ... the degree of latency and real-time support we found we could get out of 4G," he says. "It's allowed us to expand the range of our protection systems, so that devices out on network can now isolate faults within the network in just milliseconds."

Here in the United States, power companies aren't just using WiMax as a wireless technology for smart grids but are deploying it to monitor other critical functions as well. Fuel transportation company Explorer Pipeline is one of the early adopters of Sprint's WiMax-based 4G Enterprise WAN and has rolled out the network at its storage facility in Houston. Greg Wagnon, a senior network engineer at Explorer Pipeline, says that Explorer uses the new WiMax-based WAN primarily to handle supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) traffic that is used to operate the pipeline and control pressure valves to ensure safety, among other things.

Wagnon says that the addition of WiMax has made it possible for him to give the pipeline's operations both dedicated 4G bandwidth and satellite-based backup in case of network failure. Previously he had to fit both pipeline operations data and administrative traffic onto a 3G CDMA network with satellite backup, whereas now he uses Sprint's 3G CDMA network to back up administrative traffic alone.

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