Can WiMax clear the roll-out barriers?
There's a lot of excitement - but will it translate to actual usage?
By Matt Hamblen, Computerworld | Computerworld UK | Published: 11:00, 15 October 2007
2. What's so special about WiMax?
Assuming a user can find a device with WiMax service that's not too expensive, the second concern is what will WiMax provide? In other words, is there a killer application or usage model that only a WiMax wireless network can support that you can't get with another wireless broadband service?
"The biggest concern with WiMax for me is how it fits into the pantheon of wireless solutions, since wireless in the wide-area network competes with cellular," said Craig Mathias, an analyst at Farpoint Group, and a Computerworld columnist. "I mean, what do you do with it?"
To answer the question of the killer app with WiMax, Intel provided a partial answer at WiMax World, where the chip maker demonstrated a gaming device running with WiMax speeds versus DSL to show how WiMax provided smooth full-motion gaming video simulations compared with jerky video motion while running at a slower bandwidth.
Beyond gaming and into the business user's realm, West said one business application would be to use WiMax for showing videos of homes for sale, giving customers quick access to the features of a kitchen or floor plan supported by video sent wirelessly to nearly any device.
But perhaps the biggest advantage to WiMax is mobility, Ayvazian said. WiMax will mean, for instance, that the video a home-based broadband user watches from a PC today can also be viewed in a car or on a walk outside the house. Currently, some versions of mobile TV run fairly smoothly at slower data rates than WiMax, "but the downloads take forever," he noted.
Also, anyone surfing the Web with a cellular network can get impatient, as the experience using Apple's iPhone over the AT&T EDGE network has shown, Ayvazian noted. When the iPhone runs on Wi-Fi, he said, "it shows what iPhone could be if it ran on WiMax."
And there is interest. Ayvazian said he recently met with officials from the NBA who are "preoccupied" with being able to deliver video content of games to "every kind of mobile device possible."
In another example, Scott Wickware, vice president of carrier networks at Nortel Networks, said Nortel demonstrated in May the value of WiMax for enabling emergency personnel to gain quick access to medical records and to transmit video of a patient from a moving ambulance to doctors in a hospital.
3. How reliable is WiMax?
Consumers might not care much whether a video over a WiMax connection slows or stalls, but a business user working on a WiMax connection to find the status of an order with an angry customer certainly would be.
The question of reliability might not seem to be a concern, except that Xohm's West said Xohm will not be backed by a service-level agreement, which is a guarantee that a minimum bandwidth will be provided or the customer receives a refund. Such SLAs are commonplace today for many networks used by businesses, but not for existing cellular services typically.
"We will give you a good experience, but not SLAs," West said. Later, in an interview, he said Xohm will be "affordable ... around the needs of the individual."
Ayvazian said West's comments show that Xohm was clearly focused on consumers, not business users. "His comment surprised me," Ayvazian said. "I'd be surprised if that's Barry's final answer on SLAs," he added. "Business customers are going to demand some kind of SLAs."
Still, there could be WiMax SLAs offered under plans by other service providers in the US and abroad, and the advantages for business users could be significant.
Among the advantages for a reliable WiMax business-focused service, backed perhaps by SLAs, would be the ability to provide lower-cost devices and coverage across a large corporate campus, as opposed to setting up a patchwork of Wi-Fi access points, said Gartner Inc. analyst Phillip Redman.
Eventually, the entire corporate LAN could converge with the WAN, which would create greater efficiency and lower costs, Redman added. And since a WiMax network would run over pure IP, it would provide an IT shop the ability to support more applications than it can today.