Wi-Max disrupts 3G thinking

Wi-Max holds the promise of ever more bandwidth for the mobile workforce, but for the foreseeable future the wireless radio technology will be deployed primarily to extend the reach of Internet access to far-flung rural regions.

The real benefits of Wi-Max lie in its mobile 802.16e version, according to Berge Ayvazian, chief research officer for Boston, Mass.-based Yankee Group Research Inc. The hype around Wi-Max precedes its full potential by between 18 months and two years.

And even then, just how effectively mobile Wi-Max will play out remains a blur. Ayvazian says the arrival of Wi-Max was unpredictable and service providers have yet to determine how they will reconcile the technology with their newly implemented 3G cellular networks.

Millions of dollars continue to be injected into wireless WAN technologies that offer 3G connectivity. Bell and Telus have unveiled their EV-DO networks, while Rogers and Ericsson are running trials of their HSDPA network in Toronto.

EV-DO provides average transfer rates of 500Kbps and HSDPA aims to connect users at 2Mbps. Service providers are next pursuing symmetrical broadband to boost uplink speeds. EV-DO Rev. A, for example, will offer downlink bandwidth of 1.5Mbps and uplink rates up to 256Kbps.

Mobile Wi-Max is aiming for 1Mbps at vehicular speeds of 70kph, while fixed Wi-Max will purportedly connect users at 75Mbps over a range of 50km. This size of broadband has yet to be implemented, but Wi-Max at the very least offers improvements in speed and reach on Wi-Fi.

When service providers began looking at 3G, Wi-Max wasn’t yet on the roadmap, says Ayvazian. “The technology will enable an entire next generation of applications, most of which we can’t even imagine right now.

“The real value of Wi-Max will be personal mobile broadband. In its essence, it’s an IP-based technology that will enable nomadic access from anywhere to business applications integrated with IP networks.”

The ultimate challenge will be full interoperability of mobile devices between Wi-Fi, Wi-Max and cellular networks, says Mike Dixon, vice-president of networks for Markham, Ont.-based Motorola Canada Ltd. “The idea is to be able to connect to any network at any given time. Devices will be multi-band and multi-mode,” he says. “A software-controlled radio has been long sought-after, rather than hardware-based.”

Rogers is aiming for an access-agnostic view for future phone services, says David Robinson, vice-president of business implementation for Toronto-based Rogers Communications Inc. “You’ll be able to choose between Wi-Fi, Wi-Max and 3G cellular,” he says. “Ideally, you shouldn’t have to care, or even know.”

Equipment manufacturers like Nortel Networks Corp. are offering Wi-Max products to extend corporate wireless LANs. Wi-Max is also a major component of the Inukshuk Internet initiative, a joint effort by Bell and Rogers to take broadband to the furthest reaches of Canada.

QuickLink: 065615

–Ayvazian was guest speaker at the latest ComputerWorld and Network World Live Tour event held in Toronto last month.

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