August 2008 | Volume 11/ Number 8
Wireless Broadband Alternatives
By: Richard “Zippy” Grigonis
We’re all becoming more mobile, and we’re taking our beloved broadband access with us. Of course, not every location has a WiFi (News - Alert) hot spot – that’s why CDMA/EV-DO based Kyocera and Sierra Wireless “aircards” have become immensely popular, small devices that can connect a laptop, PDA or cell phone to wide area wireless Internet access offered by carriers such as Verizon (News - Alert) and Sprint. The new iPhone 3G supports UMTS and HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access), but not HSUPA (High Speed Uplink Packet Access) networks. Even so, AT&T is now completing the nation’s first HSUPA-enabled network. AT&T 3G LaptopConnect users can currently experience downlink speeds ranging between 700 Kbps and 1.7 Mbps. But most of the buzz these days is about WiMAX, which enjoys a head start over its true competitor, LTE (News - Alert) (Long Term Evolution).
Back in the day, several attempts were made to proliferate wireless broadband to serve video, high-speed Internet access and telephony services, such as LMDS (Local Multipoint Distribution Service) and MMDS (Multichannel/Multipoint Distribution System) or “wireless cable”. These were partly successful, but never achieved ubiquitous deployment. Today, WiMAX (News - Alert) appears to be the most tantalizing of the wireless broadband technologies. Indeed, when the industry learned that Yours Truly was writing a “Wireless Broadband Alternatives” article, WiMAX-related vendors began contacting me in droves.
Take Alvarion (News - Alert) Ltd., for example, a major provider of WiMAX (and non-WiMAX) wireless broadband systems to carriers, network operators, and ISPs. Alvarion was in the mobile GSM equipment market for a while and gained considerable expertise in mobile systems. Their interWAVE operations became their Cellular Mobile business unit, which was sold to LGC Wireless (News - Alert), Inc. in November, 2006. Alvarion was also one of the first companies to produce IEEE 802.11 Wireless LAN equipment and made major contributions to the IEEE (News - Alert) 802.11 standard. It also is a founder of the WiMAX Forum. Recently Alvarion announced the commercial rollout of Mobile WiMAX Internet service by DBC (DigitalBridge Communications (News - Alert)) offered over Alvarion’s WiMAX Forum-certified BreezeMAX 2.5 GHz solution. The network currently runs with broadband Internet to businesses and homes across Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Alvarion is one of the first four base station vendors to achieve Mobile WiMAX certification with its 802.16e BreezeMAX 2.5 GHz base station. This certification process required the devices to be interoperable with the base station for advanced features such as MIMO (Multiple Input/Multiple Output), and modes of operation such as idle mode.
Alvarion’s BreezeMAX base station incorporates “SentieM” technologies in the end-to-end Mobile WiMAX 4Motion solution, which enhances the Mobile WiMAX basic technology and provides better coverage, capacity and throughput per user.
Alvarion’s Ashish Sharma (News - Alert), Vice President of Corporate Market Development, says, “We have about 300 commercial deployments of WiMAX globally, which we believe is the majority of installations out there. We segment the market into three main parts: First, there’s the connectivity or primary broadband segment. This involves connecting buildings, offices, residential homes with wireless broadband. Essentially you’re going into an area where there’s no choice of broadband access, or there are a few people in the area using broadband and you’re trying to bring about a superior offering via wireless broadband. This is the BWA [Broadband Wireless Access] sort of market. Because of standardized WiMAX technology this market has actually grown quite a bit from $600 million to a current range of $1.2 to $1.5 billion, and it continues to grow. WiMAX is still a new technology, and the prices decline on the handset and terminal side are extending the market. Many different parts of the world find WiMAX attractive, both in emerging and developed markets. Even in developed markets such as the U.S., there’s a fair amount of the population that is not served by current broadband technologies such as DSL or cable. WiMAX is penetrating into these more remote areas with a very solid business case and we certainly play big in this market. In fact, it’s our ‘launch pad’, so to speak, to enter the other markets.”
“This second segment,” continues Sharma, “is what we call personal broadband. That’s the mobile broadband market. It’s a very new, early market, and it’s being targeted by companies such as Sprint (News - Alert) and ClearWire. In the future, it will be a huge market, perhaps the biggest of them all, dealing in tens of billions of dollars. The 3G vendors are also targeting this with their current and future offerings. I say the market is early in that the infrastructure equipment from companies such as Alvarion is already available, but the terminals, handset devices, and those endpoints are taking longer to be purchased, and the whole ecosystem is taking some time to develop. We achieved a significant milestone for this market recently when the WiMAX Forum (News - Alert) certified Mobile WiMAX 16e products for 2.5 GHz, including our BreezeMAX. It assures our leadership in the marketplace and it will allow new devices and terminals to enter the market over the next few months, thus kick-starting the big personal mobility broadband.”
“The third segment is also an important one for us,” says Sharma. “That consists of the vertical segments. This is essentially a segment comprised of many different players looking for broadband access. I’m referring to the oil and gas industries, the utility companies, video surveillance and many different applications. However, the challenge for this segment is that the spectrum is held by wireless operators. So either you go through the operator to deploy a network like this, or else in most cases what we have done is to offer unlicensed products. So we target this market with our unlicensed products today. But there is a great deal of interest from these various segments, because WiMAX is a technology that can bring them great economies of scale in the future. Lots of different models are being examined to see how WiMAX can play into vertical markets.”
Over at Motorola (News - Alert), Fred Wright, Senior Vice President for Cellular Networks and WiMAX, says, “We all know that there’s a tremendous amount of growth in the Internet and people are relying more on the Internet every single day for entertainment, communications, shopping, browsing. We’ve seen this huge growth occur in the wireline world and we’re beginning to see that demand transcend itself into the wireless world. It started with WiFi. You can go back in time and look at what happened with WiFi, when it first started, and the proliferation of WiFi nodes around the world, and the number of kiosks that exist today, whether they be at Starbuck’s or McDonald’s. In Europe, WiFi hotspots are everywhere throughout the European landscape and all of their various cities. We see the demand to take WiFi, put it on steroids, and add to it a mobility component so that people can have broadband wireless access virtually everywhere they would normally be able to use their cell phone today. That demand is real and growing.”
“Services such as YouTube (News - Alert) didn’t even exist two years ago,” says Wright, “and yet it’s the fastest-growing service on the Internet today, at least from the reports that we have seen. Other service creation vehicles and ideas will appear from time to time that people are going to utilize. We have a very mobile society around the world. There are hundreds of millions if not a billion or more wireless subscribers, and these people want to have broadband capability. Now, what technologies are being created to address this? First is WiMAX, which was developed by IEEE, the same group that came up with the WiFi standard, also formulated the WiMAX 802.16e standard. There are many competitive suppliers such as Motorola, Nokia, Samsung (News - Alert), Fujitsu, NEC, Nortel, Alcatel Lucent, and many more. These companies are building WiMAX infrastructure products and WiMAX devices for this newly emerging technology that will be commercialized worldwide. It is real. It is going to happen. I will say that we’re late – at least six months behind where the industry expected us to be at this point in time – for a variety of reasons. Frankly, I think we all underestimated the complexity of this technology and what it would take to commercialize it. The chipsets haven’t been fully ‘cooked’ so there’s a lot of last-minute debugging and fixing of the software for the various devices. Of course, our competitors are running behind too. This will all work itself out over the next few months.”
“The industry is working very hard on WiMAX,” says Wright. “2007 was the year of trials of this technology at various places around the world. We at Motorola got involved in over 40 trials worldwide. We transformed that into 19 contracts thus far, with 18 in different countries, and with more pending. That includes Sprint and ClearWire in America. So WiMAX is definitely a real phenomenon. The technology in terms of commercial deployments is at its early stage. Our first commercial customer was Wateen Telecom in Pakistan, whose goal is to build a nationwide network to provide basic VoIP as well as broadband data to a society that largely has no major communications at all. That’s one end of the spectrum. Then there are our customers such as Sprint XOHM and ClearWire that have the opportunity to build a wireless broadband network here in the U.S. for a highly mobile society that’s extremely sophisticated and yet it needs a technology that goes beyond what’s available from today’s 3G technologies such as EV-DO Rev. A and HSPA.”
“We will soon see the beginnings of a global use of this WiMAX technology for broadband wireless,” says Wright. “It is of significantly higher performance than today’s 3G technologies. You’re talking about downlink rates to a device from a wireless access point or a cell site that can easily jump over 20 megabits per second [Mbps] and peak as high as 40, depending on the channel width used. You’ll see average downlink speeds across the large geographic coverage area to be anywhere from 5 to 8 Mbps depending on how carriers design their networks. That’s a lot faster than today’s technologies. On the uplink side, I think you’ll see some very significant data rates too, though not as fast as the downlink rates since all wireless technologies tend to be asymmetrical in terms of performance. In any case, many commercial WiMAX systems will be deployed in this year.”
The “Surround Stuff”
There is much more to wireless broadband than simply enabling raw high speed access. Bridgewater Systems (News - Alert), for example, develops subscriber-centric service control solutions, including access control and policy management software for fixed, mobile, and converged networks. Service Providers using Bridgewater technology can offer personalized services and experiences to subscribers by maintaining a real-time policy that controls how subscribers interact with networks, services, and their devices. The offer Network access control products, entitlement control products to manage subscriber access to applications and network resources, subscriber data management capabilities, multi-network solutions for worldwide networks (GSM/UMTS (News - Alert), CDMA, WiFi, WiMAX, 4G, and fixed-line) and advanced solutions for the next generation of fixed-mobile networks — VCC, UMA/GAN, i-WLAN, and IMS.
Ann Hatchell, Director of Product Marketing, says, “We’re based in Ottawa, but are global in nature and a publicly-traded company. The types of products we sell are predicated on what we call ‘service control’ which allows service providers to control the interaction that subscribers have with the network, devices and different services. So we can determine whether someone has access to a network. Is he or she a valid subscriber? When the person gets on the network, what is he or she allowed to do? Is there a prepaid account? Are a certain number of streaming media downloads allowed per month? Things like that. We focus exclusively on the service provider space. Our 100+ customers include Verizon Wireless and Sprint. Our pedigree is really on the mobile side, starting off in the CDMA market in North America. We’re expanding into other areas such as GSM and UMTS and also WiMAX.”
“What sets us apart from our competitors, ISVs or network equipment vendors is that we are access network and vendor equipment-neutral,” says Hatchell. “We’re not tied to any specific vendor, and our products can support multiple access networks such as in the case of a DSL operator who would be looking to do WiMAX as an extension. Our products can basically support both types of networks simultaneously.”
“In terms of WiMAX,” says Hatchell, “The WiMAX network in is very similar in some ways to the CDMA network; in both cases, similar capabilities are required for network access control. Much of our early success in WiMAX has been predicated around our whole network access control pedigree, in terms of authentication, authorization and accounting, and then the subscriber management function that go with that. We just announced the Sprint XOHM WiMAX deal wherein we’ve been selected as the vendor supplying our access control technology. We are serving their 3G network and now their 4G network with a common infrastructure.”
Bridgewater Systems’ Claude Richard (News - Alert), Director of Global WiMAX Market Development, says, “Sprint and ClearWire have gotten a lot of attention regarding WiMAX, but WiMAX has been around for several years in the form of ‘Fixed WiMAX’. It has been relatively successful in many parts of the world. There are both small and large vendors in the field, such as Motorola, Nortel (News - Alert) and Samsung. Now, 16e or ‘Mobile WiMAX’ is now appearing. It’s a migration of the technology and capabilities of the network. You can argue that the previous version, 16d, was very much a broadband wireless way of communicating but there were not necessarily great Quality of Service [QoS] capabilities. With Mobile WiMAX, the game changes. Operators can now start offering differentiated services, different bandwidths for the connections, and different QoS depending on the application that you’re using. That’s all well and good, but in terms of trends, certainly we’re seeing in the new generation of WiMAX success with mostly Greenfield operators. But certainly some major operators such as Sprint are adding WiMAX to their mix of network technologies. You’ll see true DSL wireline operators adding WiMAX to really reach out to a new demographic but also so the customers without wired connections can access the network.”
“In places such as India and Pakistan, and the developing countries where there is no infrastructure to speak of, all they’re looking for is a way to bring basic access – and that includes Internet access and voice-over-IP services – to a remote village, for example,” says Richard. “In Russia, there’s a big push for WiMAX there, but again, it’s because of a lack of existing infrastructure. We in North America take it for granted that we have 3G or semi-broadband wireless access today with things such as EV-DO, but in some countries none of that exists. Therefore, people are excited to obtain some type of broadband wireless access. The trend is that many smaller countries have taken this concept to market much faster in the U.S. – take for example, all of the delays we’re seeing with Sprint. They want to be first-to-market. WiMAX is something that will work for them, because now they do have devices, the lack of which was a challenge in the very early days of WiMAX. There are many devices, 18 of which are now certified by the WiMAX Forum.”
More Backhaul to Haul
As more and more of us use wireless broadband, traditional copper-based T1 connections will be overwhelmed. Various solutions to the backhaul problem are being explored, such as point-to-point microwave, fiber, and a combination of both.
One company involved in this area is Level 3 Communications (News - Alert), an international provider of fiber-based communications services to wholesale, enterprise, content, and government customers. Level 3 offers a portfolio of metro and long-haul services, including transport, data, Internet, content delivery and voice.
Level3’s Edgar DeLong, Vice President of Offer Management for the Wireless Segment, says, “We’ve developed a hybrid wireless/fiber architecture for backhaul, which optimizes several criteria that several carriers are looking for, which includes cost, capacity, coverage, speed to market, and essentially takes the strengths of wireless microwave point-to-point backhaul technology and couples that with the strengths of fiber and basically optimizes around that set of criteria. From the perspective of building fiber out to individual cell towers – as you know, there are over 200,000 cell sites across the U.S. – today the general statistics demonstrate that there are 10 to 15 percent of those cell sites that are served by fiber and the balance are served largely by legacy copper LEC technology such as T1s. We can map out those cell sites, use wireless connections to aggregate groups of them, and then send the aggregated bandwidth over fiber for the final leg of the backhaul.”
WiMAX, LTE and the Future
Some companies are taking into account that future systems must be able to handle both WiMAX and the upcoming LTE. One organization that is mindful of both technologies is WiChorus (News - Alert), which provides intelligent, scalable core platforms – called SmartCore platforms – so that network operators can deploy 4G WiMAX and LTE networks with advanced service and subscriber management, content management, and network optimizations. Through its One Open WiMAX initiative, WiChorus has accelerated availability of an end-to-end open WiMAX ecosystem so that service providers have the option to combine best-of-breed solutions, such as the WiChorus Intelligent ASN Gateway (News - Alert) and Home Agent products.
Eric Andrews, Vice President of Product Management at WiChorus, says, “We recently unveiled our SmartCore platform. It’s really the industry’s first 4G platform, designed for higher capacities and the unique mobile IP requirements necessary for WiMAX, LTE and other next-gen wireless technologies. The platform has a lot of unique capabilities that have been ‘tailor-made’ for this environment, not the least of which are performance, capacity and scalability. SmartCore dwarfs anything out there today in terms of current 2G and 3G-type platforms. We sit in the wireless core. We’re not on the radio side – our equipment sits behind the radios and aggregates and connects them [backhaul] to the Internet, along with doing subscriber management, authentication and billing. We terminate the backhaul links between the base stations and RBOCs.”
“With all of these new higher capacity radio interfaces coming online, there’s obviously extra demand for bandwidth capacity in the network core,” says Andrews. “That’s where we come into play. The Internet itself becomes a new variable with which operators must contend. In the past operators may have primarily been dealing with walled-garden services, but now they have to deal with user demand for open Internet access. When they start opening the gates to Internet traffic, the operators must now deal with peer-to-peer traffic and there’s the question of how they manage and control that, and how they can avoid becoming a ‘dumb bit pipe’. There are many such questions that providers are attempting to answer right now. We provide tools to help with the Internet too.”
“We’re also introduced a new product that’s a software package that sits atop of the SmartCore platform,” says Andrews. “It’s called the Mobile Internet Gateway. In talking with a number of operators out there, we found that there’s a strong desire to have a simple, easyt-to-use solution that helps them migrate towards the Mobile WiMAX technology. Many of these operators may have deployed WiMAX in a fixed scenario, but now they’re interested in 802.16e, the newer mobile technology, but they don’t necessarily want to buy all of the different bits and pieces: the home agent, the gateway, the triple A [Authentication, Authorization, Accounting], all of these different pieces of the core. Instead, the operators want a simpler starting point. So we’ve come up with a package that integrates all of the subscriber management, content management, and triple A into a single platform. That makes it easier for the operator to migrate to Mobile WiMAX. It’s fully standards-compliant, and the operators can use it to grow their network at their own pace, migrating over time to larger solutions with dedicated platforms.”
“The challenges we see service providers facing today exist across a number of fronts,” says Andrews. “One is the Internet itself. More and more mobile operators are being faced with having to connect to the Internet and provide a good user experience in terms of allowing them to surf the Internet and get access to services over the Internet. But it’s a daunting proposition for service providers, because suddenly you have less control over what types of traffic are flowing over those links. So if people are doing peer-to-peer file sharing, for example, and you look at an application such as BitTorrent (News - Alert) that does video downloads, you can see that these types of applications have radically different traffic profiles and can readily swamp the wireless links and valuable spectrum that these operators possess. So there’s a concern about the Internet in terms of how the operator manages and controls that traffic so that it doesn’t negatively impact the customer experience.”
“The operators are also concerned about ‘poaching’,” says Andrews. “You have all of these Internet services out there that can readily provide interesting value-added capabilities, but how can the operator avoid becoming a dumb bit pipe and how does it create value in this new economy? Another set of challenges involves capacity. If you look at what Sprint has done with its XOHM network which now involves ClearWire too, they want to offer not kilobits but megabits per second of capacity to the subscriber. In most of the WiMAX deployments currently occurring, base stations are now capable of supporting about 50 Mbps using MIMO and AAS and some advanced technologies on the wireless side. All of that brings an increased demand on the core. So the wireless core that used to be able to easily support Kbps per subscriber is no longer adequate; it needs an order of magnitude more capacity. Operators are also faced with Capex and Opex challenges, as always. As bandwidth demands surge, the ARPU is also under pressure. Consumers want more bandwidth but they don’t necessarily want to pay proportionally for that bandwidth. They’re not going to sign up for double the subscriber fees. So, operators are really challenged to find cost-effective ways to deliver higher performance, higher capacity and how to streamline their costs. We can help them with all of that.” IT
The following companies were mentioned in this article:
Bridgewater Systems (www.bridgewatersystems.com)
Level 3 Communications (www.level3.com)
Sierra Wireless (www.sierrawireless.com)
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