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Cellular vs. mobile WiMAX

Apr 12, 20063 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork Security

* How many mobile WAN connections will you need?

For many mobile workforces, the name of the game is coverage. Today, maintaining connectivity in as many places as possible usually requires using more than one mobile network service. The last newsletter discussed industry strides with embedding broadband cellular connections directly into laptop computers.

The mobile version of WiMAX – 802.16-2005, also called 802.16e – will also likely follow this path.

“We’ll see multiple combinations of Wi-Fi, WiMAX and 3G built into laptops within the next two to three years,” predicts Barbara Lopez, a marketing director at 802.16/WiMAX technology champion Intel. Intel plans to embed mobile WiMAX connections directly into laptop motherboards in 2007.

Mobile WiMAX will deliver about 1.6Mbps per subscriber in the wide area, says Lopez, outstripping the bandwidth of today’s 3G broadband cellular networks. Mobile WiMAX is one of a few next-generation mobile WAN technologies in trials at Sprint-Nextel.

Lopez says she expects local pockets of mobile WiMAX coverage to converge into a worldwide network by 2009. She said she was not at liberty, however, to provide specifics as to which carriers will deliver the mobile WiMAX services and potentially meld their network services with others’.

If mobile WiMAX service becomes ubiquitous and interoperable among different carriers’ networks quickly – a big “if,” admittedly – it could potentially solve some nagging issues mobile enterprises currently face. For example, it’s challenging, if not impossible, to find consistent service across the entire country. This is problematic in some retail organizations, for example, with managers in charge of multiple stores that cross state boundaries. These workers often find themselves in multiple states in a given day, weaving in and out of different carriers’ coverage spots with differing amounts of bandwidth and access methods.

Some enterprises are seeking a single consistent technology, rather than a single provider, to streamline ease of use, IT training, and the number of individual connections and services needed to be purchased. If the various implementations of 802.16-2005 technology are consistent, for instance, enterprises might eventually be able to use just one type of modem connection nationwide or even worldwide.

It remains to be seen how that will fall out. In the cellular world today, for example, you can’t just have an EV-DO connection and connect to either Sprint’s or Verizon Wireless’ network; you need a carrier-specific EV-DO modem. The same is true for GSM-based 3G connections: you need one type of modem customized for the Cingular Wireless network and another modem customized for the T-Mobile network.

Will the same be true for mobile WiMAX?