WiMax in 2010: Too little, too late?
Will there be mass WiMax coverage within the next two years?
By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols | Computerworld US | Published: 14:49, 21 September 2009
Jesse Jones, owner of Matanuska Wireless, a data communications company in Palmer, Alaska, agreed, citing Internet Protocol television as a technology that can greatly benefit from improved quality of service. "IPTV via WiMax is one of the most exciting developments," Jones said. However, he added, "there is no word yet" on when the first working IPTV via WiMax models will be available.
How fast, how far, how much?
Just how high-speed is WiMax? The honest answer is "it depends."
"Speed and coverage area depend on several factors, such as frequency, terrain and tower height," Jones explained. "Any amateur radio operator or electrical engineer can tell you that propagation characteristics vary significantly based on frequency." In other words, a deployment on 700 MHz will have a different coverage area than one based on 2.3 GHz or 3.65 GHz.
Further, "the flat, open fields of Kansas will see different coverage on 3.65 GHz than my neighborhood nestled at the base of three mountain ranges in Alaska," he continued. A base station mounted 40 feet high on a tower will reach far fewer subscribers than if it was mounted 80 feet high. And the amount of throughput users see on a wireless connection is directly related to the signal quality, Jones said. "You really can't make general statements related to speed and coverage because not every deployment is the same."
Clearwire reports that its WiMax users are seeing average speeds of 4Mbit/sec. to 6Mbit/sec., with bursts exceeding 15Mbit/sec. -- about the same throughput that DSL services provide. To get that level of performance, you can expect to pay about as much as you currently do for DSL.
Although WiMax offers no huge speed advantage over today's technologies, pricing may be a selling point. Towerstream's Giftakis said, "I can confirm that our business customers will be paying less than market T1 prices to get WiMax. On the consumer side, Clearwire is offering service from $10 for a day to $50 for a month. I don't expect this will drastically change in the near term."
WiMax, Wi-Fi or both?
To access WiMax, you're going to have a wide variety of hardware choices, including notebooks, netbooks, handhelds and mobile Internet devices with built-in WiMax radios, according to Julie Coppernoll, director of marketing for WiMax at Intel.
"Numerous embedded WiMax laptops based on Intel Centrino 2 processor technology are now available," she said. In addition, USB modems will bring WiMax into your home or office, replacing your wired Internet connection.
But WiMax won't necessarily replace Wi-Fi. WiMax/Wi-Fi translators, such as Cradlepoint's Clear Spot router, can create a local Wi-Fi network from a WiMax signal. That Cradlepoint device, which is available now, allows any existing, off-the-shelf Wi-Fi device to connect to a Clearwire WiMax network, said Coppernoll.
"The Clear Spot creates a personal Wi-Fi hot spot that travels with consumers anywhere they happen to be within Clearwire's mobile WiMax service area," she said. Using it, people can avoid local Wi-Fi hot spot fees -- and, as WiMax rollouts continue, they might be able to pick up WiMax service in areas where they can't find a Wi-Fi hot spot.
Other companies are also bridging the gap between WiMax's 802.16 and Wi-Fi's 802.11 protocols. Cisco Systems, for instance, plans to introduce devices with that capability under its Linksys brand within the next six months.