Canadian service providers are still at least a couple of years away from rolling out mobile Wi-Max services (see story, page 10). Unlike Wi-Fi, Wi-Max is a licensed technology, meaning only carriers holding spectrum rights from Industry Canada are allowed to deploy the technology and enterprises won’t be rolling out Wi-Max on their own.
So why should enterprises be looking at Wi-Max now?
There are at least two compelling reasons.
The first is that while mobile Wi-Max may be some time in coming, fixed Wi-Max offerings will be available within a year.
Initial Wi-Max deployments are focused on serving up high-speed access, similar to DSL or cable modem services, to rural areas that don’t have existing high-speed connections. Nortel and Netago Wireless recently announced a Wi-Max deployment in Alberta that will offer broadband to residents within a 21,000 square kiometre area.
But as fixed Wi-Max continues to spread it will give business customers in rural and suburban settings access to T-1- and T-3-like wireless pipes. Businesses currently without access to T-1 and higher connections should be able to get them shortly and businesses who already have T-1 options may be able to get a break on pricing once Wi-Max alternatives enter the market.
The second reason enterprises need to look at Wi-Max now is that mobile Wi-Max has the potential to revolutionize business mobility plans.
As Berge Ayvazian, an analyst with Yankee Research Group, said at a recent Wi-Max event in Toronto, the real value of Wi-Max is as a personal mobile broadband platform.
Cellular 3G services are rolling out at average speeds measured in hundreds of kilobits per second.
While that isn’t blazing compared to landline speeds, it’s a lot faster than what has been available in the past and 3G is allowing enterprises to make more of their applications and information available to mobile workers.
3G will continue to evolve and eventually offer average speeds measured in megabits rather than kilobits. But even these later 3G speeds will be slower than what mobile Wi-Max has the potential to offer.
With mobile Wi-Max services, enterprises could conceivably make any application mobile, including videoconferencing.
The rollout of Wi-Max will also result in the dawn of a new series of tri-mode devices that support 3G, Wi-Fi and Wi-Max. These devices could be configured to run on the fastest network connection available, or the cheapest high-speed connection available, depending on the user’s preference.
While it’s not clear when mobile Wi-Max will be available, where it will be available, or how much it will cost, it is clear that service providers are interested in offering mobile Wi-Max. Enterprises should begin asking providers what mobility services will be coming down the pipe and begin thinking about what enterprise applications and devices could take advantage of significantly higher mobile speeds.