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[July 26, 2004]

 

WiMAX: The Great Equalizer

 

 

BY RICH TEHRANI


If WiMAX lives up to 10 percent of its surrounding hype, it will revolutionize our lives even more than WiFi (define - news - alert) has. To simplify matters, think of WiMAX as a service provider for WiFi. By that, I mean it is a way for service providers to offer true wireless broadband access over dozens of miles.

 

I recently met with a company called Redline Communications, (news - alert) a leader in this space. Speaking with Keith Doucet, VP of Marketing for the company, is like a college course in the technology and benefits of WiMAX. To paraphrase him: The standard at the moment is 802.16�WiMAX products are coming soon (once they are certified by the WiMAX Forum).

 

A Bit of Technology Before We Get Rolling

 

Typically, broadband wireless radios need clearance�above and below their signal�in order to transmit without interference. The amount of clearance is typically half a wavelength longer along both sides of the signal. This is called the Fresnel (pronounced �freh � nel�) zone, and the best way to describe it is as follows. Let�s say a ruler represents the signal passing from point A to point B. You would need free space the size of a football around your ruler to ensure a clean signal. Over a ten-mile distance, at 5.8 GHz for example, your zone would be about 30 feet above and below in length.

 

I mention this fact because Redline Communications does not need this zone clearance as the company uses orthogonal frequency wavelength division multiplexing (OFWDM). (news - alert) This technology allows you to split data across multiple frequencies and then, on the receiving end, reassemble that data back to the original composition. This is helpful because there is likelihood that interference�in the form of weather, or even a tree�could block some of the signal.

 

Coupling the above technology with a number of others results in the ability to theoretically exceed a staggering 1Gbps from a base station. Another benefit of OFWDM is that you can place your radios lower than systems that don�t employ this technology, minimizing the number of repeaters needed.

 

A great example of 802.16 (news - alert) that was put to use is a Redline customer in the oil business that needed more bandwidth than satellite could provide. In fact, this company was able to upload less than one megabit per second via satellite. By switching to 802.16, this customer was able to connect at 18-24Mbps. The closest rig to shore was 60 miles away and connected to a tower on land that was 150 feet high. The oil rig had a pizza box-sized antenna 100 feet above sea level. In order to achieve this feat, Redline had to check the curvature of the Earth, and as it is, the ocean is merely being skimmed!

 

Broadband wireless technology is not by any means limited to use on the ocean, it is just a great example to show how it can be used to provide service where there are no other options. Many predict that WiMAX will be the preferred technology in backhauling data from base stations such as cell towers or even WiFi hotspots.

 

WiMAX�s best applications logically will be voice and video. And both require QoS (news - alert) support, as well as security. WiMAX has built in both of these from the start, as they learned from the mistakes of WiFi. Hopefully, this will lead to more rapid adoption of this technology.

 

Conclusion

 

I am a fan of 802.16/WiMAX. It is the great equalizer. Currently, there are two ways to reach most companies and individuals: cable and copper. WiMAX will allow more competition, but will do so at a lower cost. This is competition that doesn�t require millions of miles of fiber in the ground, as was required in the early CLEC days. WiMAX is advantageous to service providers, corporations and individuals. It isn�t good for ILECS and cable companies. I expect these companies to become WiMAX-based service providers in areas they don�t currently serve. In the end, we all win.

 

 

 

Rich Tehrani is TMC's president. He welcomes your comments. Participate in our forums.

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