Why WiMAX may require some indoor coverage

WiMAX may be a wide-area networking standard, but most carriers queried in a recent survey said it’s important to provide coverage within buildings as well.

Senza Fili Consulting LLC of Sammamish, Wash. recently interviewed the presidents of 24 WiMAX service providers on their plans for indoor coverage. Three quarters of them said more than 80 per cent of their subscribers plan to connect to the networks from indoor locations.

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WiMAX, which stands for Wireless Interoperability for Microwave Access, is designed to allow transfer rates of up to 40 Mbps per channel over a wide-area wireless network, with cell radii of three to 10 kilometres, though actual transfer rates for individual users are expected to be much lower.

The technology is not widely used in Canada, though Primus Telecommunications Canada Inc. is operating trials in Toronto and Hamilton, Ont.

Monica Paolini, president of Senza Fili, said many WiMAX operators right now want to have customer premise equipment that can connect indoors to networks using the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers 802.11 standards (known as Wi-Fi), which provide wireless connectivity at distances of up to 100 metres. This is because Wi-Fi is “reasonably cheap” and the technology is widely understood, Paolini said.

“That works very well right now and a lot of operators actually think that using wifi for coverage in big buildings is the way to go because the cost of the infrastructure is much lower,” she said. “The problem is if you use it in an open area it’s difficult to guarantee a level of service and there are issues with interference.”

She added an internal WiMAX network would let operators use spectrum more efficiently.

WiMAX will actually be a more attractive option for mobile workers within the next four to six years, said Kevin Suitor, vice-president of marketing and business development at Redline Communications Inc., a Markham, Ont.-based manufacturer of WiMAX equipment.

“You will have single sign on capability and the ability to use the WiMAX connection that you pay for on a flat rate basis whether you’re outside your office or in your office,” Suitor said. “This will be especially true for the (small office-home office)-type based knowledge worker where they’re working from their home and they’re also out at client sites.”

Redline, whose equipment is used in nearly 140 installations worldwide, estimates eight per cent of coverage areas will require an “underlay network” to improve indoor coverage, and most of these will be in cities. Paolini said one way to support more users would be through femtocells, which are similar in principal to small cellular base stations.

“From a subscriber point of view, you have higher throughput. From the operator point of view, you can support more subscribers, so it’s a win win situation,” she said. “But this device will only work when the price goes down to a level that can be marketed to subscribers and we’re not there yet. “

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