The Winding Road To Wireless Broadband

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Is the marketing of WiMax getting ahead of its true utility? An article in Newsfactor Magazine conducts a comprehensive and practical inspection into the realit(ies) surrounding WiMax, and the viability of its usage in the coming years.

First, the good news: For companies planning to deploy broadband connectivity to their mobile workforces, the options have never looked better. Initial rollouts of 3G (third-generation) cellular data technology are fulfilling the technology’s promise. Sales and field forces can connect to the Internet and corporate applications from virtually anywhere, network speeds are reasonable, and deploying the technology requires only minimal I.T. investment.

Now for the bad news: Although current 3G offerings are a good start, the path toward a truly ubiquitous, high-speed wireless world is murky. Mobile WiMax, the wireless broadband technology that’s touted as offering landline performance to mobile users over wide areas, is at best several years away, and some analysts feel it may never fulfill its promoters’ promises.

Meanwhile, some firms, like Nokia are just plain annoyed. They stress that for all its good points, it has been overhyped and won’t have anything like the impact promised.

Many industry observers are hoping that WiMax, a developing wireless broadband technology, based on a technique called OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing), will emerge ass a viable choice, since it’s more bandwidth-efficient than 3G technology or Wi-Fi.

But whereas 3G is now a viable option for many enterprises, WiMax is not. Although it’s often portrayed as a “super-Wi-Fi” technology that creates citywide hot zones, most users won’t access WiMax via cards in their notebooks as they do with 802.11b. WiMax is really an infrastructure technology, like DSL or cable modem service.

When WiMax products become available in 2006, they’ll serve the same purpose as a router, providing the backbone access to a location. Individual users will connect to the WiMax modem via a wired Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection. The prospect of mobile users connecting to WiMax hot zones directly is still years away, however, and some analysts urge customers not to hold their collective breath.

One problem is that the IEEE 802.16e standard, which enables mobile access to WiMax networks, is still about a year away from approval. Adding to the confusion — and despite vendor hype — genuine, standards-compliant hardware has yet to appear, even for fixed WiMax (the approved IEEE 802.16d standard).

However, it will take years to build out the WiMax infrastructure, but 3G will be pervasive in about two years. One possibility, is that municipalities will deploy WiMax as an Internet utility service for residents in much the same way that cities once provided gas and electric service a century ago. He believes that cities, such as Philadelphia and San Francisco, now looking to build citywide Wi-Fi networks will eventually switch to WiMax.

While that may occur, and its possible that it may become a godsend in developing countries, many are resigned to believe that ineterference issues and difficulty in the management of zones may impede it’s use an enterprise technology here in the U.S.

See the full article: The Winding Road to Wireless Broadband (Newsfactor Magazine).

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