Cisco Weighs WiMax
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) says wireless metropolitan area specification WiMax could potentially be a challenger to 3G cellular networks for some high-speed data applications, but expects mass market acceptance of the technology is up to four or five years away.
The networking firm, which is a member of the WiMax Forum, has been fairly quiet on its plans for WiMax thus far. But, speaking to Unstrung on Friday, Cisco's Ann Sun, senior manager for wireless and mobility, shone a light on how the firm sees the market developing, while mostly sidestepping the question of what actual products Cisco will bring to the party [ed. note: company policy, dontcha know].
"WiMax now is like where we were with WiFi in 1999... with the standards just coming in place" says Sun.
Cisco's predictions about the adoption curve for the overall WiMax market are similar to what others have already laid out. Sun expects to see initial fixed-wireless WiMax products -- using the 802.16-2004 (née 802.16d) specification -- on the market at the end of 2005 or early 2006.
Initial mobile WiMax products -- using the 802.16e specification -- should hit the market in 2006 or 2007. Mobility and cheaper customer equipment should help to drive consumer interest, hopefully leading to mass market uptake by 2009 or 2010.
Cisco's Sun envisages fixed-wireless WiMax products being used as a cable or DSL replacement, mainly in "underserved rural areas in developed countries or in developing markets." Sun cites Brazil as an example of a developing country -- with a fairly large and diverse land mass -- that could use WiMax for wireless infrastructure purposes.
Mobile WiMax, however, seems to be the technology that interests Sun more. The 802.16e mobile update to WiMax should allow users to move between basestations at autmobile speeds, opening up some new possibilities for data, multimedia, and even VOIP applications.
"That's very compelling from a data application perspective," says Sun. "Our thinking is that it could potentially challenge some of these 3G [cellular] deployments."
And, as she notes, unlike the initial versions of the 802.11 wireless LAN standard, the WiMax spec already implements security and quality-of-service technology, which means that it could be suitable for more than just consumer applications from the get-go.
Sun regards WiMax and wireless LAN networking as complementary technologies. In fact, while talking about using the two networking mechanisms together, Sun drops a hint about the direction that Cisco itself may be going with the technology.
Cisco already has a product called the 3200 mobile access router that can be used for wireless access that hands off between different network types.
Sun suggests this could be used in municipal network deployments to switch between WiMax and wireless LAN networks. And this is not the only way the 3200 could be deployed: The box could potentially also use WiMax as a backhaul mechanism for WiFi users in a train and other mobile environments.
Of course, last November, Cisco CTO Charles Giancarlo left many thinking that backhaul was about all WiMax was good for, at least in Cisco's eyes (see Cisco CTO Whips WiMax).
"Other than providing the backbone infrastructure that may be behind any WiMax deployment, Cisco is not invested in WiMax," Giancarlo told the Next Generation Networks conference in Boston. "DSL and cable are [already] there, and they are much more deterministic."
We should note that after Giancarlo made his comments, some analysts suggested that he was mainly talking about WiMax's use -- or rather uselessness -- as a home networking technology.
Whatever. Cisco seems to have mellowed out on its approach to WiMax a little since then. Although, Giancarlo and Sun are essentially saying the same thing, Cisco won't be pushing to deploy WiMax in areas that already have cable or DSL in place.
For Cisco, metropolitan area mobility seems to be the market where things start to get really interesting.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung