Friday, June 03, 2005

WiMAX – Living up to the Hype

WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) is a wireless communications standard for high-speed, last-mile broadband connectivity to homes and businesses and for mobile wireless networks.

It operates in the 10-66 GHz bandwidth range with channel bandwidths of 20, 25, and 28 MHz. For backhaul operations it works in Line of Sight only with a radius of 1-3 miles. The fixed version of WiMAX can theoretically achieve 30 miles, but only in ideal conditions. The Altera Whitepaper provides a technical overview of the 802.16 standard including both the fixed version (802.16d) and the mobile version (802.16e). Also the WiMAX.com site offers a wealth of information on WiMAX’s technical standards.

Intel announced its first WiMAX product for WiMAX. This article discusses the rollout prospects of WiMAX. It predicts WiMAX chip sets are not likely to fall below $20 before 2010, which is based on a recent study from West Technology Research Solutions in Mountain View, Calif. It goes on to quote Len Barlik, VP Technology Sprint, “We’ll probably start to see initial test equipment in the first part of next year, and from there it could be into ‘07 or ‘08 before we started to see any mass deployment.”

Gartner calls the technology overhyped. In this blog Gartner lists their five phases of emerging technologies:

1. Emergence
2. Hype
3. Disillusionment
4. Enlightenment
5. Productivity

and places WiMAX in the Hype stage. Gartner indicates that several technical issues remain such as conflict with analog TV, battery life for mobile WiMAX, undefined mobile specifications, and probable competition with 3G and proposed 4G networks. Also, Gartner gives the current list of players a low rating since they are focusing on buying each other rather than committing to development.

On the political side, WiMAX may face a challenge from the Telcos who want to control how fast wireline services are replaced with wireless ones. An interesting case study to follow is the city of Philadelphia which wanted to provide low cost wireless access to its citizens who did not have access to DSL. The Telcos lobbied the state government to prevent the rollout. They failed in Philadelphia, but may win elsewhere.

In the absence of a fully approved standard for WiMAX, numerous companies are offering “Pre-WiMAX” solutions such as Aperto Networks. They are focusing on the “last mile” applications space.
Clearwire, a promising startup, is led by Craig McCaw of the McCaw Cellular Communications fame. Clearwire offers its wireless broadband service in Daytona Beach, FL, Jacksonville, FL, Abilene, TX, and St. Cloud, MN. Another contender is California’s Nextweb who recently joined the WiMAX Forum.

It takes about 2 years for a company to design, build, and rollout a new technology. So the technologies that we see coming on the market today, were funded back in 2002. Ignition Partners believes that WiMAX will come out in 18 to 24 months and will initially target the fixed wireless market with the mobile wireless market a secondary effort.

If you are working with WiMAX, I would like to hear from you. Please email me at hall.martin@ni.com.

Best regards,
Hall T. Martin

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