The emerging standard 802.16 defines a network of wireless broadband
at speeds capable of delivering triple play access to voice, data, and
multimedia internet services. As a disruptive technology, WiMAX
stands to compete with cable companies, the Telco’s, and the 3G
cellular networks. Thanks to the IEEE standards committee and the
WiMAX Forum, the fledgling technology that got serious in 2004 is
now being deployed in regions around the world.
Companies like Intel with their World Ahead
program have formed partnerships for WiMAX deployments in Asia,
Africa, and Europe, in an all out effort to bridge the digital
divide. The cost effectiveness and ease of a WiMAX deployment is
significant compared to implementing a wireline infrastructure, making
the technology a natural choice for underdeveloped townships and hard
to reach localities.
As it stands today, most of the deployments
are of Fixed WiMAX, offering VoIP and data transfers through
line of site and non line of site antennae, with a fiber optic,
satellite, or WiMAX backhaul – i.e. Internet connection.
In 2008, the 802.16e standard known as
Mobile WiMAX is expected to come of age. Mobile WiMAX will provide
for faster handoffs and will be able to compete with the cellular 3G
networks. As a technology based on open standards, WiMAX is considered
to be future proof, in that upgrades to emerging standards should be
In the United States, FCC Chairman Kevin
Martin recently stated that broadband access is a top priority for the
FCC, and that the upcoming auction of frequencies in the 700MHz
spectrum provides an opportunity for wireless internet access to
become a third choice for consumers.
Today, most of the WiMAX 2.5 GHz spectrum is
owned by Sprint Nextel and Clearwire Communications. Martin says the
FCC is auctioning off some of the spectrum in smaller blocks to give
smaller companies a chance to compete, and to bolster overall
competition in the industry.
The 700 MHz ban would be especially well
suited for Mobile WiMAX, delivering large amounts of data at low
power. The spectrum is being made available because of the analog to
digital television transition. Another advantage of this range is its
ability to penetrate deep into dense structures, potentially making
the dropped call phenomenon so typical of today’s cell phones a thing
of the past.
WiMAX is a robust technology, capable of
delivering large amounts of data at high speeds over an area of daisy
chained base stations. But what will be the Killer App in a
WiMAX network? The one application that gains widespread acceptance,
makes the most money, and fosters development and competition?
Some think the killer app could be TV over
WiMAX. The company MobiTV is working with the WiMAX Forum to do
just that. They already bring over 50 channels to your phone or PC,
and also offer TV over WiFi.
For municipalities and those concerned with
homeland security, surveillance could be the ultimate app.
Cities could easily and cheaply cover all departments with a single T1
backhaul, police would have instant access to data, mug shots etc, and
wireless cameras could be deployed to monitor security sensitive
areas. Crime could potentially cease to exist with big brother on
constant wireless alert!
Probably the biggest money maker for a WiMAX
network would be Internet telephony. VoIP has already been deployed on
WiMAX networks throughout the world, and the very concept of cheap
phone calls globally has led consumers to VoIP pure plays like Vonage
or Packet8, and the cable companies are also getting into the act.
For the underdeveloped populations most
effected by the digital divide, cheap, reliable phone service could
open up a whole brave new world.