Monday, February 04, 2008

Is WiMAX Worth the Wait?

WiMAX, the new wireless broadband communications standard, has been eagerly anticipated for several years. We've watched with anticipation as the concept turned into standards, equipment certification began, and initial pilot projects were launched. WiMAX is still coming, but will it still be as exciting when it gets here?

WiMAX is the acronym for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access. It's a truly international standard that will be useful in applications as diverse as cellular backhaul, mobile Internet, business broadband, and perhaps even a WiFi replacement. WiMAX has power and range as well as bandwidth. WiFi hotspots have proliferated and become very popular for accessing the Internet while on the go. But WiFi coverage is measured in feet. WiMAX coverage is measured in miles.

So, does that mean we're about to send all of our DSL and cable modems, WiFi access points, and cell phones to the recycling bin? Not much chance of that. These technologies are pretty well entrenched. What's more, other wireline and wireless solutions are building out to offer competition for the forecasted WiMAX tsunami.

Cellular broadband is the most aggressive in upgrading tower sites to increase upload and download speeds. Just as the CDMA networks, notably Verizon, Sprint and Alltel, begin to cover most heavily populated areas with EV-DO, an upgrade to EV-DO Rev A is launched.

EV-DO offers speeds similar to what you expect from DSL broadband. Burst speeds are up to 2.4 Mbps download, although 700 Kbps is probably more a typical speed in crowded urban areas. Upload is a mere 153 Kbps burst with 50 Kbps probably more typical. Bandwidth is sufficient to support aircards and built-in access for notebook computers. It's also been an enabler for streaming video and music downloads on cell phones.

EV-DO Rev A increases the bandwidth to a 3.1 Mbps download burst, which should incrementally improve real world performance. The big improvement is in upload speed to 1.8 Mbps. With Rev A, applications such as VoIP and video transmission become practical for mobile users.

What's more, there is a Rev B upgrade in the works for EV-DO. It further increases downlink speeds by 3x to a burst rate of 9.3 Mbps using a technique called DO Multi-carrier to bond 3 channels. Peak rates up to 14.7 Mbps are possible by allocating more station bandwidth to EV-DO transmissions.

A competing technology, known at LTE or Long Term Evolution, is in development. Download speeds are up to 100 Mbps with 20 msec latency. While it may be at least a couple of years before LTE is deployed to cellular base stations, it's clear that cellular-based broadband has the potential to compete with other wireless technologies including WiMAX.

WiMAX got everyone excited with a prediction of 70 Mbps bandwidth over as much as 30 miles coverage. The range as well as the potential link speed is what sets WiMAX apart. But a network of cellular broadband stations could do pretty much the same job. In fact, WiMAX might see its greatest application in providing backhaul services for those competing cellular stations.

As of this writing WiMAX deployment is off to a slow start. The real impediment is the billions of dollars that need to be invested in transmitting infrastructure to operate a nationwide network. Sprint and Clearwire have been in discussions to combine forces in using their existing bandwidth to blanket the country. The current 700 MHz spectrum auctions could also release choice frequencies for WiMAX use.

Pre-WiMAX implementations are already providing wireless business links in some major cities. Covad is offering what they describe as "T1-class wireless broadband" in 200 California cities, plus Las Vegas and suburban Chicago. Bandwidths from 1.5 Mbps to 100 Mbps are offered as available. Wireless bandwidth is especially valuable to businesses not already lit for fiber optic service but needing to expand their WAN connections.

Is your company looking for the optimum bandwidth services to support your digital telephony and data transmission needs? If so, check out a suite of options that include wireless, wireline, fiber optic and satellite delivery.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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