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What’s the word on WiMAX?

Sep 29, 20043 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork Security

* WiMAX steals mindshare

As standards-compliant products prepare to ship, ’tis the season of WiMAX trade shows. Still, the $40,000 question remains: How successful will WiMAX be?

As standards-compliant products prepare to ship, ’tis the season of WiMAX trade shows. Still, the $40,000 question remains: How successful will WiMAX be?

WiMAX has many potential applications; among them is simply providing a wireless broadband alternative to DSL, cable modem and T-1 services.

The good news is that there are finally standards for the broadband wireless access (BWA) market and an organization – the WiMAX Forum – to certify product compliance and interoperability. Several years ago, this situation went astray, when a standards-accelerating body, the Broadband Wireless Internet Forum, disbanded, in large part because leader Cisco quietly exited the market after a corporate restructuring.

After that, BWA products were designed, willy-nilly, in various frequencies within the range, to achieve non-line-of-sight (NLOS) capabilities. But Multichannel Multipoint Distribution Service (MMDS) license holders, such as Sprint, MCI, and Nucentrix, were banking on standards, economies of scale and mix-and-match products.

Testing went on ad nauseum, and many equipment makers couldn’t hold out. Sprint quit offering its first-generation, line-of-sight service, and hasn’t made it to a second-generation service.

WiMAX is the light at the end of that tunnel.

On the other hand, at least in this country, WiMAX has lots of competition, both from other wireless technologies, but perhaps more dauntingly from competing wired solutions. Well-known wireless consultant Andy Seybold, who heads the Andrew Seybold Group consulting firm in Santa Barbara, Calif., has publicly questioned the WiMAX business model where there are existing DSL and cable services, for example.

Prices for high-speed data services will continue to drop, and at some point, carriers of any kind can only charge so little for any service, regardless of how it is deployed.

Meantime, though, WiMAX has other uses, such as for backhaul applications, for serving rural populations (provided carriers can get enough subscribers), public safety networks and greenfield telecommunications infrastructures in underdeveloped countries.

There might also eventually be an enterprise-centric use for WiMAX. Strix Systems, for example, makes mesh-architecture Wi-Fi LANs that are extensible to eventually support WiMAX (and UltraWideBand) modules. You can’t buy them today. But, presumably, as standard WiMAX products and technology mature, the idea might be that if you wish to extend your campus network over longer distances at higher speeds, you could do so under the same management architecture but using WiMAX technology.

If you are attending the events mentioned in the last newsletter – WiMAXcon in Los Angeles Oct. 6-7 or WiMAX World in Boston Nov. 2-4 – you might wish to ask the vendors about how they intend to overcome some of these challenges and what benefits WiMAX might hold for you as an enterprise.