The promise of WiMax revealed at conference

WiMax will not cause Wi-Fi and 3G to become extinct when it becomes available in 2006, and its application in the enterprise space should be looked at with a close eye, according to a panel of industry experts.

The 802.16 standard, otherwise known as WiMax, has been getting much hype over the past year as being the next biggest technology since Wi-Fi. This may be confusing to some, explained Chris Kozup, program director of technology research services at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn., since no WiMax compatible products exist today. Until there are certified WiMax products in the marketplace, Kozup continued, there will be no WiMax networks out there.

Kozup was one in a panel of industry members who broke down the key factors that comprise the promise of WiMax technology at the Wi-Fi Planet Conference in Toronto on Thursday. Although WiMax is not yet available, Kozup noted that it is one of the fixed wireless technologies, along with Wi-Fi and ultra wideband (UWB), that are of much interest to enterprises.

There will be a great deal of synergy between WiMax and the 802.11 Wi-Fi standard, said Lynn Lucas, director of product marketing for wireless solutions provider Proxim Corp. WiMax will extend the coverage area provided by Wi-Fi, whereas 3G will be best suited for high mobility, but low data rate applications, she added.

Wi-Fi and WiMax can really allow enterprises to create an end-to-end wireless project — WiMax for a large campus scale and Wi-Fi at a smaller local scale, she noted.

An example of this co-functionality would be at an enterprise campus that isn’t restricted to only one building. There could be a company’s headquarters, its manufacturing plant and a few remote locations all within close proximity to one another, Lucas explained. To use a wired fibre-optic solution to network all of these buildings together would be an extremely expensive proposition.

There are several ways that WiMax could aid in a situation like this by keeping price points down, explained Lucas. WiMax could prove a better total cost of ownership (TCO) than a wired solution because recurring monthly costs of multiple T-1 and E-1s could be avoided and would come at a much lower cost than trenching.

Another attractive benefit to the technology is that it would offer enterprises network ownership, which would allow them, in turn, to take “the proactive approach” in their technology. Lucas noted that network ownership would, for the enterprise, result in zero reliance on service providers.

Because organizations would be able to own and operate their own network with WiMax, the word “carrier” starts to take on a whole new meaning, explained Patrick Leary, assistant vice-president of marketing at Alvarion Ltd., a company that provides wireless broadband networking infrastructure to carriers.

“In a WiMax world, a carrier might not only be Telus or a Bell Canada, but it could also be a regional power company or an ISP or a municipality,” Leary said.

On top of the benefits listed by Lucas, Leary added that WiMax would allow for the “holy grail” of wireless technology, meaning that it has high enough capacity for triple-play IP services including Internet access, voice over IP (VoIP) and video.

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