WiMAX World

This is my first piece for Mobility Loop, so it’s a pleasure to write for you. I’ve been consulting in the wireless arena for ten years, and it’s been an exhilarating non-stop ride of forever-evolving technologies. In the wide area space in the last decade, we’ve gone all the way from DataTAC and Mobitex to CDMA2000 Evolved Data Optimized (EV-DO) and High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA), with at least half a dozen intervening wide area technologies, some of which are still around. Most recently, WiMAX has received a lot of buzz as the possible “next big thing”, so it was with interest that I participated in last week’s WiMAX World conference in Boston. There was no shortage of interest in the topic, with at least a couple of thousand attendees and presentation rooms spilling over with people.

The solid news was the emerging availability of WiMAX-certified products for fixed wireless applications, and operators like AT&T (just acquired by SBC) describing their WiMAX trials and motivation for considering the technology, including bypassing the $8 billion a year that AT&T pays local phone companies for access to their customers. Also solid was the imminent completion of the IEEE 802.16e specification that adds mobility capability, with major vendors planning chips for the 2007 time frame. Less solid was what type of operators would deploy mobile WiMAX networks in what spectrum, to what types of users. However, one emerging view I discerned was on "personal broadband" data-oriented services in a three-tier network configuration, providing greater capacity than 3G networks though with smaller coverage areas, however exceeding Wi-Fi hotspot coverage areas. This makes sense, as Wi-Fi is somewhat problematic over wider continuous coverage areas.

One mesh Wi-Fi network vendor provided an interesting vision of mesh Wi-Fi networks becoming hybrid Wi-Fi/WiMAX networks, with WiMAX providing both access and backhaul, and access points deployed in the same locations as the mesh Wi-Fi network. Meanwhile, another vendor described a completely different model with WiMAX as a data overlay for cellular networks, deployed on existing cellular towers. There’ll be no shortage of ideas thrown around in the next couple of years as the industry tries to figure out how to leverage this new wireless technology.

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