There is a notion going around that copper and wireless have about had their day in the great bandwidth race. Copper has gained a new lease on life as a last mile technology for Metro Ethernet service. Wireless has a unique position in that no wireline or fiber service can match it for mobility. But there’s a wireless technology in the works that may blow away fiber optic services even on the basis of speed.
Wireless bandwidth higher than fiber? Ha!
Well, not so fast. Not all fiber optic service are pumping out 10 GigE to users. In fact, a lot of fiber optic bandwidth is delivering 50 and 100 Mbps ports to customers. That’s especially true of FTTH or Fiber To The Home that is only now starting to approach 100 Mbps. What would you say to being able to pluck 100 to 300 Mbps out of the air anywhere in the city? Wouldn’t that make your netbook scream? Might you consider going wireless to the desktop with that kind of speed?
High bandwidths and low latency are the promise of a new standard in the works called 802.16m. If that number sounds familiar, it’s because you know 802.16e as the basis of WiMAX service. WiMAX is a mature standard based on SOFDMA (Scalable Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access) and MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) radio technologies. It’s the platform used by Clearwire and Sprint for their CLEAR 4G broadband service, now expanding nationwide. This first generation WiMAX offers 3 to 6 Mbps downloads with citywide coverage. The upgrade will increase that more than an order of magnitude.
The 802.16m standard is now being dubbed WiMAX 2 to indicate it is a upgrade to the current international WiMAX standard. It’s a backward compatible upgrade, which is certain to ease deployment.
What will WiMAX 2 be used for? It will certainly be in high demand by mobile business and consumer users, perhaps even for advanced smartphones. The first WiMAX phone is expected to be out this summer. By the time WiMAX 2 has a nationwide footprint, the technology may well be giving traditional cellular services a run for their money. The higher bandwidth capability of WiMAX 2 make it a natural for high definition video and perhaps the long awaited Internet enabled vehicle.
But WiMAX also has the potential to serve millions of users not wired for DSL or Cable broadband and loath to accept the high latencies and limited bandwidth of satellite Internet services. That makes it a natural to be the service of choice in rural areas, perhaps with deployment accelerated by the current stimulus funding available for rural broadband. WiMAX 2 speeds will get the attention of both consumers and business users dissatisfied with their current broadband services and looking for something competitive that doesn’t require construction costs. WiMAX to the desktop is reality now, even in areas heavily dominated by DSL and Cable broadband services.
Less conspicuous will be wireless backhaul applications for WiFI hotspots, 3G cellular and even other 4G technologies. To get beyond today’s bandwidth limited cell sites means either fiber optic or high speed wireless backhaul. WiMAX was always intended for this application, although consumer and business Internet services are what’s being talked up in the media.