Barrett keeps its options open for switching to LTE

Having chosen WiMax as the standard for its soon-to-launch next-generation fixed wireless network, Barrett Xplore Inc. believes it is well-placed to serve rural communities with high speed broadband Internet access.

But it is also hedging its technology bets.

The Woodstock, N.B.-based carrier revealed as much when it announced this month why it chose routing and switching equipment from Tellabs Inc. to run the new network’s packet core.

Price and technological reliability were factors in the winning bid, said Allison Lenehan, Barrett’s chief strategy officer, as well as Tellabs’ experience in rolling out new networks such as Barrett’s.

But he also said one of the key reasons was the ability of Tellab’s SmartCore 9160 platform to switch from the WiMax standard to Long Term Evolution (LTE) if the latter proves to be the winning technology in the broadband wireless race. “What Tellabs offered us was a clear roadmap that allows us to use either technology as it unfolds,” said Lenehan.

Around the world, wireless operators are making bets on which 4G technology to back: WiMax, which has been around longer, or LTE, which last year began being deployed in Scandinavia and the U.S.

But WiMax (formally known as the IEEE’s 802.16 standard) tends to be the choice for operators offering fixed wireless Internet access, mainly because its mobile standard hasn’t been finalized. That isn’t expected until 2012.

Cellular carriers around the world have largely settled on LTE because wireless network equipment manufacturers such as Ericsson LM, Nokia Siemens Networks and Alcatel Lucent are backing it as the broadband data twin for their wireless voice networks. That means the biggest carriers are behind LTE.

That has led to considerable speculation that the future of WiMax is cloudy enough that eventually the two standards will merge, in part because some of their base standards are similar. Barrett, whose service is called Xplornet, is hedging its bets.

“We can’t predict what the right long-term wireless solution is going to be,” Lenehan said. At the moment, WiMax has been offered for several years and is hardened. Lenehan said and his company doesn’t foresee switching to LTE. But Tellabs solution gives it protection.

Barrett’s new WiMAX network under construction in southern Ontario and Quebec will use the latest 802.16e version of the standard, he said, and 801.16m when it is ratified next year. In between there will be an interim software release for the equipment that will allow Barrett more flexibility in managing bandwidth.

Based in Naperville, Ill., Tellabs specializes in optical networking equipment, switch and routing and mobile packet core solutions for carriers. Among its biggest clients is Clearwire LLC, which is building Sprint Nextel’s WiMax network in the U.S. Barrett is the 10th SmartCore customer.

According to Eric Andrews, the manufacturer’s director of product marketing, the SmartCore platform’s capabilities include traffic management that allow carriers to track the way subscribers use data and understand where congestion is.

“It’s a great place to both analyze traffic and enforce network policies,” Andrews said. Tellabs claims also SmartCore can also increase network efficiency by offloading as much as 70 per cent of traffic at the network edge.

Tellabs acquired the SmartCore platform for managing mobile packet-based LTE and WiMax networks, when it bought WiChorus Inc. in 2009. 

Barrett has already chosen Ottawa’s DragonWave Inc. to provide microwave backhaul equipment and radios from Washington, D.C.-based Alvarion Ltd.

Barrett is using a combination of new satellites and upgraded fixed wireless to broaden its existing network serving areas not covered by other Internet providers.

The WiMax part of the network will include 1,200 upgraded existing and new towers in Quebec, Ontario and B.C. and will initially deliver speeds over 40 Mbps under ideal conditions. Next year that will be boosted to over 100 Mbps.


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