WiMax now undergoing certification testing
It’s the week of the WiMax Forum meeting in Vancouver, so we’ve got a bevy of WiMax news today, starting with the certification testing of WiMax hardware. According to the WiMax Forum, this will provide for fully standard-compliant hardware to reach the market around the end of the year. Prior to this, only “pre-standard” hardware based on the projected WiMax specification was available. Those providers using pre-standard hardware are expected to upgrade their networks as soon a standard hardware is available.
WiMax is hyped as being the ultimate next-generation solution for wide-area networking, supposedly able to deliver speeds up to 70 megabits at ranges up to 30 miles.
Editorial: WiMax threatens monopolies
PC Magazine’s John C. Dvorak weighs in on the WiMax debate with an ominous prediction: cable and telephone companies will have a vested interest in making sure that WiMax never reaches the its potential market.
Central points of the editorial: WiMax threatens the unregulated duopoly of existing telecom providers. Cable and telephone companies have conspicuously failed to compete in a number of arenas, particularly with regard to server-class connections. A successful and cheap WiMax would threaten their respective monopolies. Therefore, the players in these markets will try to either take WiMax over, or eliminate it.
It’s no real surprise that other companies invested in older, more proprietary communications systems would see WiMax as a threat–When the standard was first proposed, Sprint complained to the FCC that to allow WiMax to exist would essentially destroy radio communication as we know it. Nor are they the only players–WiMax would threaten both landline and mobile phone providers, and provide a double-threat to companies like Sprint and Verizon, which fall into both categories.
But even with companies such as Verizon, Time Warner, and others allied against it, WiMax may not be easy to get rid of. With companies like Intel, LG, Samsung, and Lucent all backing WiMax, we may end up seeing a corporate war over what the next generation of mobile telecommunications is going to look like.
All this does underline why it’s important to protect small Wireless ISPs, or WISPs, as well as passing legislation like the Community Broadband Act of 2005, sponsored by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), which guarantees the right of municipalities to create their own broadband networks.
PanAmSat promises WiMax via satellite
Satellite communication company PanAmSat claims that they’ve developed a system to offer live broadcast video over WiMax, via satellite, to handheld devices.
Since it’s impossible to create a WiMax connection from a satellite to a handheld device, presumably what PanAmSat means is that the satellite system acts as ‘backhaul,’ moving data from the WiMax base station to a more central location where the video originates.
While I expect that this could have some applications, particularly in remote areas, it won’t do what the company claims it will. Satellite internet access has been around for quite some time, and the main reason that it hasn’t caught on in the mainstream is that it’s inherently slower and prone to extreme lag, due to simple logistics. The amount of bandwidth on a satellite is limited, at least compared to surface-based systems, and therefore must be conserved. The 22,400 mile trip to a geostationary communications satellite, and the same trip back, introduces at least 500 milliseconds of lag into the connection, compared to a surface broadband connection which rarely has more than 50ms of delay. Add in other factors, and it’s not uncommon to see satellite response times on the order of 1000 milliseconds for the simplest request. While a company using their own satellites as backhaul instead of directly providing consumer-grade service would probably do a bit better, using landlines to supply bandwidth to WiMax sites simply makes more sense.
While IPTV, delivered over WiMax, through a satellite is possible, there’s less benefit to it than a pure fiber or terrestrial-WiMax solution. The satellite backhaul of the bandwidth required would be expensive, and would still require a WiMax base station in any location where the service was to be offered. As with internet access, for most even moderately developed areas it would be simpler to use landlines, or even backhaul WiMax towers to each other, to provide service in more rural areas.
To make a long story short, PanAmSat is hyping something that’s more gravy than potatoes. While this sort of system could bring benefits to very underdeveloped areas such as mountainous regions, it’s unlikely to become “the future for handheld devices,” as a PanAmSat senior VP claimed. They would do better to forget the U.S. market and concentrate on applications for foreign aid groups, military bases, and countries that lack wired infrastructure.