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    Making the world a giant Internet hotspot  
    Globe and Mail  
   

CATHERINE McLEAN

 
    October 24, 2007  
   

Technology has so far managed to take the Internet into the wireless world, but if consumers really want to take advantage of it away from their home or office they are stuck seeking out hot spots. WiMAX could change all that, delivering a new technology that promises to do what the cellphone did for phone calls.
Anyone frustrated with having to wait minutes to load a web page or navigate a website on a mobile device such as a BlackBerry or cellphone will be quick to recognize the potential of the new technology.
Unfortunately, to date Canada's major telecom carriers have been slow to get on the WiMAX bandwagon. But elsewhere, the technology is starting to get some prominent endorsements. Yesterday, Cisco Systems Inc. said it is snapping up privately held WiMAX equipment maker Navini Networks Inc. for $330-million (U.S.), a move analysts said provided the latest validation for the new wireless network technology.
Companies betting on WiMAX, including Canadian telecom equipment maker Nortel Networks Corp., insist there is pent-up demand for a speedy wireless Internet service.
They point to the popularity of social networking sites such as MySpace and YouTube and their limitations on cellphones today. YouTube, for example, may only offer 50 instead of thousands of clips for viewing.

"I believe this really is the promise of bringing mobility to broadband," Richard Lowe, Nortel's president of carrier networks, said in an interview.
With their cameras and video players, cellphones are advanced consumer electronic devices. Yet the networks they run on haven't kept pace with the speed, bandwidth and low prices available on land line Internet connections. The fastest cellular networks offer speeds of around one megabit per second (Mbps).

WiMAX promises to be up to five times faster, comparable to connections at home.
Soon, consumers could be constantly connected to the Web whether at home or out with friends, just as they don't hesitate to reach for their cellphones to make calls today.
WiMAX "will make the Web truly a part of our everyday life, like electricity," said Michael Rogers, the Futurist-in-Residence for The New York Times.

But the technology hit a roadblock recently when the chief executive of its most prominent promoter, Sprint Nextel Corp., left amid concerns that his vision for mobile services was flawed. Some have speculated that could delay or deal a serious blow to WiMAX before it takes off, though Sprint says it remains committed to rolling out the network in the second quarter of 2008. Many other carriers around the world are staying on the sidelines and watching what happens to the Sprint guinea pig. Rogers Communications Inc. admits it won't be on the "bleeding edge" and
spearhead development by working out the bugs and getting equipment makers on board.
In-Stat analyst Daryl Schoolar describes Sprint as the "linchpin" in bringing WiMAX to market. If Sprint says it wants to move forward, or kill it all, "their actions can reverberate globally." It's a gutsy and costly move. Even though Sprint already owns a cellular network, it will spend as much as $5-billion building a separate WiMAX system. Its strategy is simple: cellular for voice calls and WiMAX for Internet.

Sprint decided to go with WiMAX since it will be three or four years before another emerging wireless broadband technology, called long-term evolution or LTE, offers the chance for fast mobile Internet access."This horse is out of the stable and it's running around the track and there's not another horse in sight," Barry West, Sprint's chief technology officer, told the recent WiMAX World conference in Chicago.
Mr. West envisions a world where WiMAX chips are everywhere. Customers will own a number of WiMAX devices, including cameras and handheld Internet devices.
That means Sprint won't have a cellphone subsidy to recoup. Clients won't have to sign contracts, and will instead pay daily, weekly or monthly rates for mobile Internet service on multiple devices. That new business model illustrates why WiMAX is expected to upset the status quo. Another reason: it will give upstarts like Clearwire Corp. in the U.S. or Craig Wireless Systems Ltd. in Canada the chance to offer phone, Internet and eventually television services over wireless connections, bringing new competitors to the market."In the hands of disruptive players, they're willing to drive these new economic models," Yankee Group analyst Philip Marshall said.

Not surprisingly, the big telecom operators are less enthusiastic about WiMAX and the changes it will bring. "Our belief is for a mobile device ... the cellular technologies have the edge," David Robinson, vice-president of business implementation at Rogers, said in an interview. He believes it will take time for WiMAX to catch up to existing cellular networks when it comes to features like roaming or battery life.


Rogers and Bell Canada, both cellphone carriers, have joined forces to build a separate wireless broadband network called Inukshuk, that uses WiMAX spectrum. But customers can only use the service at home or lug around a modem. The partners see Inukshuk as a niche product. Rogers' wireless Internet service, launched in March, 2006, has tens of thousands of users, Mr. Robinson told WiMAX World . Its land line phone product, introduced nine months earlier, has 500,000 customers.
Some observers question whether Bell and Rogers may be squatting on the spectrum needed for WiMAX in order to keep it out of the hands of new rivals. Bell and Rogers bristle at such suggestions since they are investing more than $200-million (Canadian) in their Inukshuk network. While Rogers says they have met the guidelines required to keep the spectrum used for WiMAX and other wireless broadband technologies, there is little innovation going on. For example, Bell and Rogers could make Inukshuk mobile, like Sprint's service, but they would have to hand back a third of their airwaves to someone else.
"They have good [Internet] penetration. Why cannibalize it?" said Dawood Khan, a partner at wireless management consulting firm Kazam Technologies Inc. "You have good cellular coverage. Why cannibalize that?"
The two may be hoping WiMAX turns out to be more hype than reality.
"If Sprint does pull it off, it raises the profile of what can be done in Canada," said Iain Grant of telecom consultancy SeaBoard Group. "And that would either embarrass Bell and Rogers to do more with it" or the government could reconsider who should get those valuable airwaves.
***
POTENTIAL OF WIMAX
When cellular networks were designed back in the 1970s, the aim was to let users make calls from wherever they happened to be. For a long time, a small number of people paid a lot of money for the privilege of lugging around brick-sized cellphones. It was, in one executive's words, a yuppie toy.
In the 1990s, cellphone sizes and prices started shrinking, while reliability improved. They soon became a must-have item.
At the same time, the Internet age was dawning. Carriers spent billions worldwide on the spectrum, or airwaves, required to launch new technology standards known as 3G, allowing them to get in on the Web game.
However, these cellular networks were still based on a circuit-switched system used for voice calls rather than the Internet protocol (IP) standard that works best for data.
Other wireless networks have emerged to bridge that gap. The best known is WiFi, which people use to hook up their laptops to the Web in cafés. WiMAX is WiFi's lesser-known cousin.

For now. WiFi is designed for short distances and is best suited for hot spots. That's because it runs on unlicensed airwaves that are used for other consumer devices, such as microwave ovens and baby monitors.
WiMAX, in contrast, uses dedicated spectrum with a reach of up to 10 kilometres. That makes it a more viable choice to build an extensive wireless network since base stations don't need to be installed every few metres. (WiMAX stands for World Interoperability for Microwave Access) Since the spectrum WiMAX uses just came up for grabs in recent years, there is also plenty of capacity available for high-bandwidth Web services. Imagine flying a plane in the empty countryside compared with fighting for space in the crowded skies above a city.
***
Broader broadband
WiMAXis a long-range wireless system that will ultimately make it easier to connect suburban and rural communities to the internet.
LINE OF SIGHT TRANSMISSION
A fixed antenna points at the WiMAX tower from a rooftop or pole. The connection uses higher frequencies and is stronger and more stable than non-line of sight transmission.
NON-LINE OF SIGHT TRANSMISSION
In this mode, WiMAX uses a lower frequency range -- 2 GHz to 11 GHz whichis better able to diffract, or bend, around obstacles.
AT HOME
Devices connect wirelessly to the home's WiMAX receiver.
WiMAX TRANSMITTER
Can cover an 8,000 square km area.
ISP NETWORK
Connects to the Internet using a high-bandwidth, wired connection
BROADER THAN WIFI
Wi-Fi is a shorter range system, typically hundreds of meters that is typically used by an end user to
access his own network.
SOURCE: HOW STUFF WORKS

 


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