Canadian WiMax tests show teething troubles

Engineers testing a new WiMAX service southern Ontario are getting conflicting results as they experiment with gear from Alcatel-Lucent and Motorola.

“Different equipment is giving us different performance,” said Joe Boutros, president of Mipps Inc., which holds licences in Hamilton and Toronto, where tests have been going on for several months.

“Some base stations are giving us coverage of more than 4 or 5 kilometres, and some are giving us a half a kilometer, and we’re trying to understand why.”

He didn’t say which products were giving the differing performance. WiMAX boosters often claim the technology has a long reach, but Boutros said that often assumes line-of-sight between transmitter and receiver. In Canada, buildings and trees get in the way of signals, he noted. Mipps, a division of Globility Communications Corp. of Toronto, a competitive local exchange carrier, has partnered with Primus Telecommunications Canada, which will sell the service. Primus owns about 20 per cent of Mipps, plus a large piece of Globility.

The range of the system, based on the IEEE 802.16e standard – sometimes dubbed mobile WiMax – is crucial because it will determine where service can be offered, which in turn will affect how much money Mipps can raise for deployment.

Mipps will be responsible for the infrastructure, and Boutros believes it will have to raise “lots of millions of dollars.”

Primus Canada president Ted Chislett also acknowledged spotty service in tests “I’ve gone to the main branch of the Hamilton library and wandered around and got service and it was great. On the other hand, we’ve seen instances where you go to a home and it would work fine on the second floor but you wouldn’t get any service on the first floor.”

However, he added that “every few weeks there’s new versions of software with improvements, and things are still developing. We’re hoping by the first quarter of next year things will have stabilized.”

Mobile WiMAX “shows promise,” he said, but added “it’s uncertain as to whether the business model will work and justify it, and will people want it. Will they see enough benefit to cutting the cord and tether to say ‘Hey, this makes sense to do this?’”

Initially, Primus is thinking of targeting its WiMAX offering at users who want high speed Internet access who don’t sit at one desktop all day.

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