Alvarion's WiFi Stopgap
The Tel Aviv, Israel-based company has combined an outdoor WiFi access point with its BreezeMAX or BreezeACCESS VL units for backhaul and network management software. The BreezeMAX basestations can operate in the 2.3-, 2.5- or 3GHz range. The BreezeACCESS VL box is a 5GHz unit.
The integration work reflects the market reality that -- although there is now plenty of WiMax and pre-WiMax infrastructure now available -- there is a distinct scarcity of mobile WiMax clients, PC cards, laptops, PDAs, and smartphones on the market.
The new Alvarion boxes are intended as a stopgap while the market waits for WiMax clients. "It is a half step from offering WiMax services all the way to the end user as its WiMax in the backhaul, WiFi in the access to reflect the current state of user devices," says Carlton O'Neil, VP of marketing at the company. "As WiMax end-user devices become widely available, WiMax network builders can offer WiMax all the way to the end user. Right now, WiFi is the best way."
One unavoidable drawback of this approach is that the range of WiFi access is limited to 300 feet or less. "Standard WiFi range on the end user side, several miles on the WiMax side for backhaul," notes O'Neil.
Other vendors looking at combining WiFi and WiMax are coming at it from a different angle than the new Alvarion boxes. Mesh vendors such as BelAir Networks Inc. and Tropos Networks Inc. want to use WiMax basestations as backhaul for a number of WiFi mesh nodes. Indeed, Alvarion has been working with Tropos Networks Inc. in order to provide WiMax backhaul for the search giant's 802.11 mesh deployment in Mountain View, Calif.
O'Neil says that WiMax QOS can still help to improve overall wireless multimedia capabilities on the network. "There is a mapping algorithm in the WiMax piece for doing QOS on the backhaul for the WiFi access points," O'Neil elucidates. "The WiFi works as usual, but the backhaul can be prioritized by user and application using WiMax QOS."
"A possible application might be streaming video to a laptop where the end user gets the service over WiFi, over the last few hundred feet, but from the AP it is carried on WiMax back to the network," he continues. "This means much better service quality and again enables carriers with a WiMax network -- or aspirations to build one -- to be able to offer service immediately to any and all devices that support WiFi."
Despite the fact that some industry commentators still see WiFi and WiMax as competing technologies, it is clear that the short- and medium-range wireless specifications can just as easily work in harmony. Eventually, the market will likely see dual-mode WiFi and WiMax devices on the market.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung