High-speed wireless access is going to be the belle of the broadband ball

It seems like last-mile broadband access has been around forever. After all, industry pundits, vendors and the trade press have been bandying about terms like Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and Local Multipoint Communications Service (LMCS) for years. Despite the hype though, broadband technologies are only now beginning to hit their stride.

Businesses beset by bandwidth blues looking for broadband relief have essentially three options – cable modem, DSL and soon, if not now, wireless. While cable and DSL have their place in the enterprise, the technology that will have the greatest impact on Canadian companies will be broadband wireless.

Cable modems and DSL connections are certainly more readily available now than wireless broadband. But both technologies have limitations, from an enterprise point of view, and are more suited to remote access use than as T-1 replacements or extensions.

While DSL provides great download speeds (up to and perhaps even above 7Mbps), it doesn’t necessarily give users high upload speeds. Also, the performance of DSL varies with the quality of the copper pair it’s running over. If the line is in bad condition, the DSL won’t perform the way it’s supposed to.

Cable modems have two principal drawbacks. The first is that cable companies don’t have much cable plant deployed in and around industrial parks and likely won’t build out to such parks, because the cost of laying cable is prohibitively high. The second drawback is that cable modem performance can vary dramatically depending upon how many cable modems are attached to a particular cable trunk. If there are too many modems on a trunk, the modem bandwidth won’t be as high as promised.

Wireless broadband technology promises to be more flexible and reliable than either cable modems or DSL. Wireless is capable of providing greater bandwidth than its wireline couterparts. According to Stream Intelligent Networks, the firm’s recently deployed wireless gear can drive 155Mbps over one link – more than enough bandwidth for any enterprise or carrier.

Ease of deployment is another factor in wireless broadband’s favour. If a firm is in an area that doesn’t have cable plant nearby, or DSL gear in the nearest telco central office, it’s unlikely a telco or cableco will upgrade its equipment just to suit that one firm. A wireless provider, on the other hand, need only deploy some customer premise wireless equipment to give a bandwidth-hungry building all the access it can handle.

Doubters of wireless broadband will no doubt point to the examples of MaxLink and WIC Connexus as proof of the technology’s inability to deliver. Both MaxLink and WIC (which was taken over by MaxLink) have spent years trying to get wireless broadband off the ground in Canada. However, the main reason for WIC’s and MaxLink’s failure to get their businesses off the ground was immature technology – something that’s no longer a factor, at least as far as point-to-point wireless goes.

Ultimately, the decision over which broadband last-mile option to go with will come down to two issues – what the technology will be used for and how much it costs. While DSL and cable modems are perfectly viable options in some enterprise scenarios, wireless promises to be the fastest and most flexible of the three.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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