New Standards Accelerate Deployment Of Wireless Broadband
802.16 specifications will promote compatibility of broadband products and help VARs provide Internet connections at significantly lower cost.
By providing last-mile connectivity to the Internet, wireless broadband technology has positioned itself as an alternative to cable and DSL (digital subscriber line) connections. Wireless broadband can provide Internet access in locations where wired technology is difficult to deploy, such as buildings with outmoded electrical infrastructures and rural areas. But wireless broadband has yet to reach its potential to fill gaps in Internet coverage. Proprietary solutions have failed to deliver interoperability of hardware or economies of scale. However, recently adopted 802.16 specifications from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE) (Piscataway, NJ) and recommendations from the WiMAX Forum (Vista, CA) are expected to accelerate the deployment of broadband wireless. Vendors say the 802.16 standards will help VARs provide businesses a cost-effective alternative for connecting to the Internet using fixed antenna installations.
"This is all about how to get fast and cheap broadband connections in situations where you can't otherwise get a connection," says Carlton O'Neal, VP of marketing for Alvarion, Inc. (Carlsbad, CA), a developer of broadband wireless equipment. Kevin Suitor, VP of business development at Redline Communications Inc. (Markham, Ontario), says there is a growing demand for wireless broadband. "We are seeing requirements for broadband wireless virtually everywhere -- from deserts and mountain terrains to rural and urban locations," he says.
WiMAX Amendments Promote Multivendor Solutions
IEEE -- a nonprofit technical association with more than 360,000 members -- adopted an amendment to the 802.16 standard in 2003, 802.16d, to create a common set of specifications for connecting wireless broadband to buildings. By providing total data rates of up to 75 Mbps (megabits per second), a single base station mounted on a building or tower can provide wireless connectivity to several businesses. The WiMAX Forum, a nonprofit corporation composed of leading broadband vendors, was created to promote the adoption of equipment that complies with 802.16 standards. Equipment that passes the organization's testing systems will receive a WiMAX-certified label that assures users the system meets interoperability standards. Vendors and VARs will no longer be locked in to single-vendor solutions. Widespread release of products based on the 802.16d standard is expected in 2005. IEEE also is working on the 802.16e standard, which will create specifications for mobile applications.
"Having WiMAX Forum-certified products will remove barriers to entry for VARs offering broadband wireless, which will help solve connectivity challenges that enterprises and small businesses face," says Jeff Orr, senior product marketing manager for broadband wireless products at Proxim Corp. (Sunnyvale, CA). Suitor agrees the standards will make it easier for VARs to implement broadband solutions for end users. "802.16 and the WiMAX Forum will offer the interoperability required by VARs to work with best-of-breed base stations and other technologies to enhance performance," says Suitor. "This will allow VARs to implement products from industry-leading vendors -- including those in Korea, Japan, and China -- without having to worry about the interoperability of components."
Although IEEE is still working to complete the full set of 802.16 standards, Alvarion is already offering its BreezeMax base station that is designed to meet 802.16 interoperability specifications. "We have customers who want the product," says O'Neal. "This standard is a nice shot in the arm and definitely a boost, but not all customers are waiting on it."
Standards Reduce Cost Of Wireless Deployment
Vendors say end users will realize significant cost benefits when deploying wireless broadband technology. "The business case for using wireless broadband is very compelling, with a payback of six months or less for the customer," says Tom Hulsebosch, director of sales and marketing for Motorola, Inc. (Schaumburg, IL). Suitor adds that businesses can reduce operational expenses by installing WiMAX-certified equipment. For example, renting two T1 lines for two buildings would typically cost a business $1,500 per month in fees. By replacing the T1 lines with wireless broadband, the business could increase capacity by a factor of 15 -- with a data rate of 45 Mbps versus 3 Mbps -- for a one-time capital charge of about $10,000. The end user doesn't have to pay service fees for the wireless service unless the building owner charges a monthly fee to rent space for the antenna.
O'Neal adds that Intel Corp. (Santa Clara, CA) plans to develop a silicon chip based on the 802.16d standard for use by a wide variety of hardware manufacturers, first in outdoor antenna installations and later for use in mobile computers. Intel's goal is to dramatically decrease the cost of implementing wireless broadband solutions. "Intel's presence will take the average cost down below cable or DSL connections," says O'Neal. "As Intel makes a chip available, it will be used in all sorts of devices. Having an unfettered ability to connect to the Internet wherever you are will auger an explosion of [wireless] growth." Intel plans a wide rollout of its silicon chip in 2007.
Capitalize On Prime Wireless Broadband Markets
Customers with multiple buildings -- such as college campuses, school districts, and government agencies -- provide a major opportunity for VARs to implement wireless broadband technology. "The potential applications and customers for wireless broadband are extremely diverse," says Hulsebosch. "Any business that has a need for IP [Internet Protocol] is a potential customer, and the need for IP connectivity is only going to grow."
Wireless broadband gives end users the option to bundle voice, data, and video traffic over a single wireless link. "The biggest trend for businesses is implementing wireless broadband for multiple types of traffic -- LAN IP data, as well as voice traffic over a common connection," says Orr. "Today, many businesses solve their LAN needs separately. The ability to converge these functions through a common network connection reduces recurring operation costs." Video surveillance is one of the most sought after functions. With wireless broadband, VARs can provide end users such as colleges video surveillance systems without having to run cables to multiple buildings.
Obtain Training To Win Wireless Installations
To deploy wireless broadband solutions, VARs will need to learn about radio frequency requirements. For instance, Suitor notes that VARs that provide wireless broadband in the licensed 2 GHz and 3 GHz frequencies will need to conduct studies to make sure they don't interfere with other licensed operators. Suitor recommends VARs obtain technical training from vendors to learn best practices that have worked in wireless broadband installations.
VARs can obtain information on 802.16 standards at WiMAX Forum's Web site, www.wimaxforum.org. "The work being done by industry groups like the WiMAX Forum has increased the awareness of broadband wireless," says Orr. "This greater awareness lessens concerns that end users may have when VARs recommend broadband wireless solutions." And VARs can gain expertise needed to implement WiMAX-certified systems by teaming with vendors to implement current wireless broadband systems before they are upgraded to meet the new standards. For instance, Orr says Proxim's WiMAX systems will be similar to the company's current Tsunami products. "This will minimize the learning curve and training typically associated with new system releases," says Orr.