Will WiMAX Be The Last Mile For Wi-Fi?
There's a new wireless technology called WiMAX that is making its way to market in 2005 and is beginning to draw a lot of attention. WiMAX is the name given to the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 802.16 air interface specification. This standard focuses on the efficient use of licensed and unlicensed bandwidth in the 2 GHz to 66 GHz frequency range. Designed to address the needs of end users who are just outside the reach of broadband options such as cable, DSL (digital subscriber line), or T1 services, WiMAX can provide 75 Mbps (megabits per second) wireless throughput across a distance of up to 30 miles.
Some are even saying WiMAX will replace Wi-Fi. And, others are saying it will also replace many of the proprietary last-mile technologies that have been around for the past decade. In theory, this makes sense. WiMAX will provide an additional 21 Mbps throughput above Wi-Fi, and its signal will travel more than 100 times the distance of a Wi-Fi signal. Also, WiMAX has the potential to overcome obstacles that have plagued proprietary last-mile technologies for the past decade, such as inclement weather and integration issues.
WiMAX Will Complement, Not Compete With, Wi-Fi (For Now)
But, don't count on any technology unseating Wi-Fi anytime soon. Wi-Fi has the advantage of having proven itself over the past several years, plus there are tons of hardware and software options and support services that end users can choose from. And, Wi-Fi works. It will be a while before WiMAX can make such boasts. One huge obstacle WiMAX faces, for instance, is a plethora of unlicensed frequencies. These frequencies could create serious interference problems. For example, you could deploy a WiMAX solution for a customer, and then a competitor could roll out a WiMAX solution within a 6-mile radius using the same frequency. This could cause interference for your customer. In fact, such interference could hamper -- or stop altogether -- the throughput of both systems. "VARs will need to work with their competitors in these instances to agree to use different frequencies where signal interference occurs," says Philip Solis, senior analyst, wireless technology, for research firm ABI Research. If you have experience deploying Wi-Fi solutions or proprietary wireless last-mile solutions, there is a good chance you haven't had to have much interaction with your competitors. So, why can't you deploy WiMAX using only licensed frequencies, you wonder? According to Solis, licensing fees can cost a company tens of millions of dollars. I don't know about you, but it sounds to me like that would severely narrow your customer pool -- especially if startup companies and SMBs (small to midsize businesses) are part of that pool.
But, even though WiMAX won't replace Wi-Fi and last-mile technology alternatives in the near future, it doesn't mean it won't affect your wireless/mobility business right now. The fact is, with backing from vendors such as Alcatel, Fujitsu, Intel, and Proxim, and a standard that is based on the IEEE, WiMAX is here to stay. And, even though it may be a few years before some of the bugs are worked out, don't discount the early adopters that are willing to invest in some temporary workarounds to reap WiMAX's benefits now. My advice: educate yourself about WiMAX so you can talk to clients about this fixed wireless alternative. Checking out the WiMAX Forum is a good first place to start: www.wimaxforum.org. Ideally, if you can find early adopters and get one or two WiMAX installs completed in 2005, you'll be in a better position to understand the benefits and pitfalls this new technology has to offer. Equally as important, you'll be better prepared for WiMAX's next power play, which is expected to happen at the end of 2006, when it goes mobile.