Tuesday, July 01, 2008

First in Windmills, First in WiMAX

When it comes to the important technologies for the 21st century, where in the world do you look? Is it the United States where the Internet was born? Perhaps China or Japan where just about everything is manufactured? How about India where design expertise is concentrating? No, none of these. Would you believe Holland?

The Dutch have been leaders in business and technology for hundreds of years. Now they're the first in Europe to implement mobile WiMAX as a wireless broadband standard.

Mobile WiMAX, defined by the IEEE 802.16e standard, is an extension of the original fixed wireless 802.16d being promoted as a humongous Wi-Fi hotspot or the answer to 3G cellular backhaul woes. What mobile WiMAX brings to table is the ability to move around with automatic hand-offs between base stations. If this sounds like the way cellular networks work, it is. But instead of CDMA or GSM transmission technology, WiMAX is designed to support IP networking rather than traditional telephone voice channels.

Not that WiMAX can't be used for telephony. In fact, it may be WiMAX that gives mobile VoIP the platform it needs to take off. But voice is seen as the small piece of the pie. What mobile broadband with significant user bandwidth can really do is transport live video feeds and all those video downloads that are clogging-up the Internet delivery networks. WiMAX providers may find themselves as dazed and confused as the cable and telco operators if video goes mobile in a big way.

Who better to solve this dilemma than the Dutch? They were the first to come up with solutions to the rising tide of global warming before anybody paid attention to carbon dioxide. Dutch windmills reclaimed land from the sea for habitation and agriculture using a nationwide system of windmills to pump the lowlands dry.

We used to think that windmills were quaint in the United States. Now we can't put them up fast enough to generate clean power. We're not at the point of having to hold back the ocean yet. But as sea levels rise and beaches start to disappear, we may very well take a serious look at the Zuiderzee and Delta works in the Netherlands.

WiMAX is also coming here in the fall, courtesy of Sprint and Clearwire. As WiMAX builds-out, it will face stiff competition from LTE, a competing technology being deployed by AT&T and Verizon. Whether the competition for users will slow down 4G wireless or only serve to speed up availability of desperately needed bandwidth remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Worldmax will be expanding on its Amsterdam mobile WiMAX network that has already started operation. They eventually expect to deploy about 3,000 sites to cover all of the Netherlands, financial resources permitting. Watching how the service plays out will be a good leading indicator of how mobile WiMAX networks will actually be used once they are universally available.

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