April 2009 | Volume 12 / Number 4
Who, What, Where, When, WiMAX?
By: Richard “Zippy” Grigonis
WiMAX aficionados would have you believe that it’s better suited to mobile voice devices than LTE (News - Alert), which is supposedly good mostly for large file transfers. That doesn’t necessarily appear to be the case. LTE could very well make a huge impression in all mobile communications areas once it gets fully deployed, but for the moment, WiMAX (News - Alert) is the wireless broadband star among vendors and network operators.
One company familiar with the underlying workings of WiMAX is Beceem (News - Alert), is a major provider of high performance chip solutions for the Mobile and Fixed WiMAX market, and was the first to introduce terminal chipsets for the Wave 1 and Wave 2 WiMAX Forum profiles, which are based on the IEEE (News - Alert) 802.16e-2005 Mobile WiMAX standard.
Lars Johnsson, Vice President of Business Development for Beceem, says, “WiMAX will overshadow LTE for the next three or more years when it comes to real, commercial deployments and will take full advantage of its two-year or more time-to-market lead over LTE. WiMAX has committed operators that are launching commercial service today and will have Mobile WiMAX networks up in U.S., Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Russia offering 4G service and covering a combined population of over 100 million people by the end of 2009. LTE, on the other hand, is running up the hype cycle at full steam, and will overshadow WiMAX when it comes to product announcements and talk about how great it is going to be once it gets here who knows when.”
As for what people will be using Mobile WiMAX for in the short term (voice, data or both?) Johnsson says, “Mobile WiMAX will be used both for data and for VoIP services. The primary focus in many Mobile WiMAX networks is on providing 4G mobile broadband services, offering data centric products in 2009, followed by MIDs and handsets in the first half of 2010. These handhelds will support seamless VoIP services, and some will also be made available as dual-mode products for 4G-3G roaming. In addition, WiMAX will serve as wireless broadband connection to the home/office in many markets, giving service providers the chance to offer converged service bundles.”
When asked if he expected consumers or businesses would be first to adopt WiMAX immediately, or both, Johnsson says, “We are seeing demand from both consumers and business. There is a significant number of early adopters and prosumers that are waiting for a truly mobile Internet service and are signing up at a promising pace. There are also a lot of business that can benefit from anywhere broadband connectivity, especially ‘local mobile’ businesses like real estate or insurance agents, field employees or municipal service that can improve the way they do business by adopting WiMAX, and we are seeing this in some of the early deployments already.”
In terms of trends or challenges for WiMAX, Johnsson says, “At this point there are no remaining technical challenges in the WiMAX ecosystem. The good news for WiMAX is that product development commercial grade was completed by a number of the major equipment providers in 2008, so that sellable product is available from a large number of sources. This shields product development from the budgetary constraints that many new product development initiatives are currently under, especially those with a multi-year payback timeframe like LTE.”
“Up in the Air”
Veraz Networks (News - Alert) provides application, control, and bandwidth optimization products that foster migration to the Multimedia Generation Network (MGN). Service providers use the Veraz MGN portfolio to extend their current application suite and rapidly add customized multimedia services that drive revenue and bolster customer retention. The Veraz MGN separates the control, media, and application layers while unifying management of the network, thereby increasing service provider operating efficiency. Wireline and wireless service providers in over 50 countries have deployed products from the Veraz MGN portfolio, which includes the ControlSwitch, Network-adaptive Border Controller, I-Gate 4000 Media Gateways, the VerazView Management System, and a set of customizable applications, including the verazVirtu softclient.
Dawn Hogh, Vice President of Marketing at Veraz, says, “Veraz has a number of relationships with radio vendors, such as Alvarion (News - Alert), and we’re also working with some systems integrators in terms of WiMAX offers. At this point in time we’re looking a WiMAX as just another vehicle in Voice-over-Broadband. A year ago or so there were many questions such as ‘Can you really do voice?’ because people thought there were voice quality issues. That myth has now been pretty much debunked. The problems went back to some original poor engineering for the network for voice, as opposed to any actual problem with voice over WiMAX.”
“We do see a lot of activity, but in terms of the number of deployments or in gaining momentum, I’d say WiMAX has progressed at about the same rate during 2008 as it did previously,” says Hogh. “I think there’s still a question, especially with the current economic climate, as to how much WiMAX deployment will occur and will we really see WiMAX be a lot slower than was initially expected. That would then tend to signal that ultimately the market may just shift over to LTE [Long-Term Evolution] instead of WiMAX. At the moment most of the technology that exists today is on the WiMAX side, while LTE is still in the process of evolving. When you have that kind of deployment window, it seemed to signal that there would be an interval of a couple of years when WiMAX could really grow before LTE got going. But the economic downturn appears to be keeping WiMAX adoption from really accelerating. So everything is ‘up in the air’ right now. That’s not to say that there aren’t WiMAX deployments. It’s happening, but there’s just no tremendous uptick that some people thought would happen. There are some geographical areas, however, such as Africa, where WiMAX does make sense, and we’re seeing it become a driver on the data side, and then its pretty straightforward to add voice service on top of that.”
“We see some bit activity,” says Hogh. “What happens is that a lot of the WiMAX bids just never close. So there’s still a lot of speculation, but in terms of actual WiMAX deployments, that has slowed or hasn’t ramped up, depending on what your view of the market was initially.”
“Technologically, WiMAX works,” says Hogh. “In October of 2007 the broadband wireless provider ONEMAX officially launched is WiMAX 802.16e network in the Dominican Republic, which was the first IMS over Mobile WiMAX deployment in the Americas. Veraz’ ONEMAX deployment has been humming along very well since we turned that network up. So, we can at least be sure that there aren’t any technology issues blocking the deployments.”
Something New “Under the Hood”
Volubill provides real-time monitoring, control and charging software to communication providers around the world. This enables competitive differentiation and rapid time to revenue for data, content, VoIP and messaging services, leading to decreased customer churn and increased customer acquisition. Volubill has its sights on becoming the leading global supplier of charging and control solutions for pre-, post- and now-pay environments for all fixed, mobile and Fixed-Mobile Convergent (FMC) environments, irrespective of the underlying network technology including WiMAX, IMS, IP, CDMA, GSM and 3G.
Volubill has focused on the need for operators to accurately charge for all services with zero revenue leakage and the need to know in detail what users are doing. To these ends, the Volubill WiMAX solution offers a single platform to perform usage management, charging and rating functions. The need for total revenue and usage policy management by WiMAX operators is great, as is the importance of intelligent Authentication, Authorization and Accounting (AAA).
Volubill’s CEO, John Aalbers, says, “We’ve been around since 2001, when we appeared with probe packet examination technology that sits on the IP line, looks at all the packets going past and then use that information in real time for lots of different applications. Over the last few years we’ve grown to build those applications on top of our probe technology. There are two in particular: One is charging — the idea of balanced management, rating, pricing and all of that. More recently there has appeared a concept called usage policy management which is designed to reduce the need for network upgrades with operators. In other words, as the bandwidth consumption grows and grows in IP networks and over time with WiMAX as well, we’re able to track the usage on an individual subscriber basis and the type of service that they’re using, and apply quotas, effectively, to what they can do. The idea here is that the ‘bad’ users who pay very little but use a huge amount of bandwidth are controlled a bit better than they have in the past. That’s the basic area in which we work, and it’s quite a unique footprint that we bring to the market because we have an end-to-end solution that starts in the network and goes all the way through to the BSS layer. Most companies either do one or the other side of that and not both in a single platform.”
“We’ve been working on WiMAX for a couple of years now,” says Aalbers. “We determined a number of years ago that WiMAX was going to be tremendously strategically important for us, particularly because our focus is largely on the emerging markets. And of course WiMAX is very applicable to those markets, given the lack of fixed-line infrastructure and the demand for bags of services coming up as well. We really wanted to make sure that we had out-of-the-box solutions which we could sell into emerging WiMAX markets.”
“Our company has been growing well over the past three years,” says Aalbers. “We’ve grown more than 500 percent. In fact, in 2008 we grew 84 percent more than 2007. Q4 2008 was our best quarter ever. We’re really just riding a nice wave around mobile, data and WiMAX that’s driving our business forward. With the emerging foreign markets, you’d think that customers were just after a cheap phone call, but the amount of data usage in those markets is growing just as fast if not faster than in the Western economies. It’s quite surprising and exciting for us.”
“There are both challenges and opportunities when it comes to WiMAX, and we’re certainly following the trends on this,” says Aalbers. “WiMAX service providers have specific control and charging requirements for the data services offered via WiMAX, areas in which Volubill can help, such as needing one-stop and cost-efficient subscriber control, charging, billing and efficient multi-payment management since WiMAX technology can be embedded in a wide array of equipment sold via a wider distribution network than traditional mobile device. Customer acquisition, payment and credit control are now a more sophisticated affair under WiMAX. You’ll be seeing universal customer reach into WiMAX data services via pre-paid, post-paid and/or now-pay mechanisms, and the way to accomplish cost efficient revenue collection in such an environment is with systems capable of automated seamless dialog. Then, of course, there’s differentiated service capability. To effectively compete and provide profitable data services, customer segmentation and value-add services such as VoIP, things such as granular connection tariffs will be necessary. Subscriber control, charging and billing systems will have to provide flexible service policy designs that complement network policy enforcement points in ASN gateways and service delivery platforms. Such policy decision-making occurs in the context of functions such as real-time rating, and charging must operate with extremely quick, millisecond response capability.”
Fortunately, Volubill’s CHARGE-IT platform provides WiMAX operators with a solution that enables Fully intelligent AAA, user-, service- and application-level policy decision and QoS control with a flexible method of defining and maintaining service and policy decisions, mobility management with optional CSN-anchored MIP and Home Agent support, real-time charging and payment control, in-line and off-line user dialog and advice of charge, IP address allocation, Post-paid/Pre-paid (including now-pay payment options) and Now-pay Payment Options. It also supports interfaces to all key ASN functions, embedded in ASN-gateways including Network Access Server (NAS) using AAA/RADIUS, service flow authorization using caching or processing forwards, and application function triggers. CHARGE-IT also provides policy enforcement and service control options traditionally found in the ASN, to be located centrally, so that service providers can provide unified and network agnostic services.
In terms of WiMAX trends, Donal O’Callaghan, Volubill’s resident WiMAX Technical Expert, says, “From a commercial perspective, we see that many operators are interested in turnkey solutions. They know it takes funds to build out the build out the actual physical infrastructure, and as a result we see a lot of ‘channel-to-market’ wherein the network equipment providers are supplying turnkey solutions for everything from the network infrastructure all the way up to building and charging. So we’re working quite hard on our relationships with the network equipment vendors, and we’ve made some good progress there.”
“From a technical perspective, considering the size of Volubill, the biggest issue for us is keeping an eye on the standards and following those standards at an appropriate point in time,” says O’Callaghan. “There are a lot of standards out there. For example, they’ve begun working on the standards for roaming. There’s nothing critical there yet. So we just have to make sure that we’re delivering the functionality that our customers need and we’ll be ready when the market is ready to accept the new standards. Most of the activity we’ve seen in WiMAX thus far in terms of business opportunities for us, have been in the fixed side. It’s only been in the last few months that we’ve started to see some seriousness in terms of the mobile side of things. The mobile side is a bit trickier, since we’ve got things such as roaming to consider, and the emerging standards associated with that. An obviously security is another matter, particularly because we provide an AAA function, and it needs to interact directly in the network infrastructure as the subscribers is roaming through the Mobile WiMAX scenario. So there are more stringent requirements on the AAA platform when it comes to Mobile WiMAX. But as we work with various vendors, as was typical with ISPs and in the mobile space, we see that each vendor has its own particular flavor of the documented standards. We’re taking them into account as we encounter the different network vendors.”
Flexible and Profitable Mobility
Cisco (News - Alert)’s complete end-to-end broadband wireless solution consists of best-in-class Mobile WiMAX technologies, which are tightly integrated with Cisco’s IP NGN transport and service-delivery infrastructures.
Cisco’s Kittur Nagesh, Director of Marketing in the Service Provider
Marketing Segment, says, “Some confused people place WiMAX and LTE in opposition to each other, in the context of the mobile Internet. Mobile operators are starting to deliver services beyond voice, and many of these rich multimedia-based apps for both business productivity and consumer infotainment demand unprecedented amounts of bandwidth. This forces the development of new RANs [Radio Access Networks] such as WiMAX and personalization technology, while the additional bandwidth itself encourages its use and spurs the development of even more bandwidth hungry apps.”
“The underpinnings of all this are IP networks. So we’re excited that what some people call 4G networks, such as LTE or WiMAX are on the move. WiMAX is already here, while LTE trials start in 2009, with roll outs occurring perhaps in 2010, 2011 or 2012.”
“Regardless of when large-scale LTE adoption occurs,” says Nagesh, “it’s fair to say that end-to-end high performance IP architectures and solutions will drive the next wave of the Mobile Internet, which in itself is good for the ecosystem and for Cisco, since we can build on our strengths and can extend our portfolio of gateways, content service engines, and so forth to adapt to and serve the needs of these high performance networks.”
“In terms of personalization, things will be micro-segmented that it will all become a matter of the network doing things for particular individuals, rather than similar groups,” says Nagesh. “So one could capture ‘long-tail’ markets in a nicely-architected end-to-end IP system if there is sufficient intelligence operating in the network.”
“The ‘choke point’ is the radio aggregation piece,” says Nagesh. “In the 2G world, most of the mobile applications were voice, and a handset talks to a base station, which has a T1 or E1 which connects to an IP edge which in turn connects to an IP core, and often many of these networks used MPLS which kept them in good shape trafficwise. And there were gateway boxes to adapt TDM or ATM traffic to packets. So, overall, in the voice world, the upstream traffic was largely served by T1/E1 at the cell sites. In the mobile Internet world, which is already happening, T1s and E1s will be grossly inadequate and you will actually see an obvious ‘choke point’ where they connect. We feel that when high bandwidth radio interfaces such as WiMAX and LTE appear, Carrier Ethernet-type services can yield greater backhaul bandwidth, and high performance cell site routers will also be come the norm, so that the operators and providers can innovate in terms of their business models, whether it is based on ‘all-you-can-eat’ or personalized or application-based or whatever. In short, the architecture needs to address the ‘choke point’ to facilitate innovation in terms of business, billing, customization and personalization.”
“As a ripple effect, you will see the IP edge becoming ‘smart’ and also the IP core becoming high performance and scalable in nature,” says Nagdash. “From Cisco’s standpoint, we feel that this is good, because it’s driven by consumer behavior, and it really promotes for interoperability and innovation, which is what IP has been throughout its existence. That is a bandwagon in which Cisco has ridden.”
“Another point concerning this Mobile Internet phenomenon, is that the notion of mobility needs to encompass more than just radio,” says Nagesh. “Sometimes Mobile Internet may actually be an oxymoron. It’s Internet that handles any device, any entity, any network, and you as a consumer will get what you want where you want it. But let’s assume that the next wave of innovation consists of higher performance rich media applications and collaboration technology connecting to high performance radio networks. There we feel that mobility will transcend the idea of just being associated with the handset. You’ll be doing something at home, let’s say watching the turmoil of Wall Street on CNBC, but you must go to work or catch a train for some reason. You could just push a button and switch over to your iPhone (News - Alert) where suddenly it ‘knows’ where you are and you can view the same channel as your walk to the bus or train station or you hop into your car. That is also, in our definition, ‘mobility,’ and we’ve spent a lot of time over the past several months explaining this redefined notion of mobility, which is ‘anytime, anyplace, any device,’ and the creation of an infrastructure and application ecosystem to deliver the apps our customers want, wherever and whenever they want them.”
“You can extend that analogy to video and unified communications and you’ll actually see Cisco launching applications to reflect this behavior, which we call The Connected Life,” says Nagesh. “We feel that the discussion ought to be: ‘The phenomenon is happening, so how will the provider monetize the customer’s experience in a meaningful way, while creating an architecture that gives them openness, flexibility and velocity of innovation on the service side, business side or application side?’ So it’s all quite exciting.”
The following companies were mentioned in this article:
Beceem – (www.beceem.com)
Veraz Networks – (www.veraznetworks.com)
Volubill – (www.volubill.com)
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