TECH TALK: Next-Generation Networks: WiMax

There has been a lot of debate about WiMax in recent times. Will it be the ubiquitous networking nirvana that its advocates hope it will be, or will it be a damp squib as some of the detractors insist it will be? Heres a sample comment from Bill Alpert writing in Barrons (May 16, 2005): Unwired communications will allow the emerging economies of Asia, Latin America and Africa to transport their masses into the age of the telephone and the Internet at prices affordable even to a low per capita GDP. But how much of the job will go to the cellular technologies promoted by the likes of LM Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola, Texas Instruments and Qualcomm, and how much to WiFi and WiMAX, the wireless networking technologies driven by Intel and a flock of smaller vendors like Broadcom, Atheros Communications, Marvell Technology Group, Alvarion and Airspan Networks? For now, my money’s on cellular.

But that does not mean WiMax can be written off. This is from Intel, one of the WiMax champions:

WiMAX, or 802.16, is a fast-emerging wide-area wireless broadband technology that shows great promise as the “last mile” solution for bringing high-speed Internet access into homes and businesses. While the more familiar Wi-Fi* (802.11a, b and g) handles local areas, such as in offices or hotspots, WiMAX covers wider, metropolitan or rural areas. It can provide data rates up to 75 megabits per second (Mbps) per base station with typical cell sizes of 2 to 10 kilometers. This is enough bandwidth to simultaneously support (through a single base station) more than 60 businesses with T1/E1-type connectivity and hundreds of homes with DSL-type connectivity.

What makes WiMAX so attractive is its potential to provide broadband wireless access to entire sections of metropolitan areas, as well as small and remote locales throughout the world. People who could not afford it will now be able to get broadband and in places it may not previously have been available. It enables coverage of a large geography very quicklyFor many businesses, particularly small businesses that are out of reach of DSL or not part of the residential cable infrastructure, 802.16 represents an easy, affordable way to get connected to broadband.

The WiMax Weblog pointed to an article in ScienceDaily which gave a bullish view on WiMax:

WiMAX carriers will be pitted against broadband, DSL and cell-phone carriers for customers, said Greg Phillips, the chief executive officer of AirTegrity Wireless Inc.

“If you think about cell phones today, they’re really limited. What we’re really doing is turning them into broadband devices,” Phillips said. “There will be a market play between the traditional cell-phone companies and the IEEE cell phone.”

He said WiMAX could make a huge difference in developing countries and rural areas that have experienced very slow connections or have been unable to pay cable fees to establish service.

“It will allow other nations to engage more effectively where they were before constrained,” Phillips said. “India and China already have a huge push going for them already,” but the biggest changes will be in Latin America and Africa, which are still catching up.

“India and China won’t be level,” he said, “they’ll be beyond us.”

He said he expects a station to cost between $500 and $600 initially and go down drastically in price as the chips become cheaper to manufacture.

“There’s a huge number of people that have never been introduced to telephony and they’ll be introduced to broadband at almost the same time,” Phillips said. “Think of all the people introduced to mainstream media. They’ll be able to receive newscasts, education and even commercial use on these devices.”

WiMax has great potential for countries like India which have large swathes of the countryside which have no telecom coverage and where it can be ideal solution.

Tomorrow: 3G and 4G

TECH TALK Next-Generation Networks+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.