Are we on the brink of a Wimax revolution?

Is Wimax set to become the de facto standard for business, or will advancements in 3G and other wireless technologies leave it by the wayside?

Is Wimax set to become the de facto standard for business, or will advancements in 3G and other wireless technologies leave it by the wayside?

Are we on the brink of a Wimax revolution?

Wimax technology got a boost last month when the International Telecom­munications Union approved the wireless data transmission system as a 3G standard.

This will allow operators to provide Wimax in spectrums allocated for 3G phone networks, which use competing cellular technology, and provides a path for Wimax to mature and increase in use, said industry body the Wimax Forum.

What is Wimax?

Wimax is similar to Wi-Fi. They both transmit data wirelessly, but Wimax has a longer range, making it more useful in metropolitan area networks. Wi-Fi's range is about 30m. Wimax will blanket a radius of 50km with wireless access. Wi-Fi transmits at speeds of up to 54mbps, but Wimax should be able to handle up to 70mbps.

Wimax could offer an alternative to Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), and some companies have already turned to Wimax because of the higher upload speeds and ease of set up it offers over DSL connections.

Trials of Wimax are well under way in the UK. Network provider Pipex Wireless began the UK's first commercial Wimax trial in Milton Keynes in December 2006. Pipex plans to launch the service in Manchester next month and then roll out services to 50 UK towns and cities by 2009. Another operator, Urban Wimax, is also offering Wimax services.

Obstacles to Wimax adoption

Before Wimax can become as popular as Wi-Fi, experts say there will need to be a wider selection of client devices that support the standard. Wimax could take at least a year to mature before it is used as widely as Wi-Fi and 3G.

"The next tipping point for Wimax will be Intel's inclusion of Wimax in laptops," said Graham Currier, business development director at Pipex Wireless.

"It was only when Centrino had Wi-Fi built in - so that users had the hardware and software to use it - that the explosion in Wi-Fi use occurred. Intel will start to ship Wimax-enabled laptops in the second half of 2008 and first half of 2009."

Intel is developing dual Wi-Fi/Wimax modules for notebooks. Add-in cards for laptops are already available, and embedded cards are scheduled for May 2008.

Acer, Asus, Lenovo, Panasonic and Toshiba have all committed themselves to offering Montevina Centrino laptops with on-board Wimax wireless broadband support, Intel said.

Networking supplier Cisco acquired mobile Wimax antenna manufacturer Navini Networks for £161m last month. Jonathan Hindle, Cisco's director of service provider mobility marketing, said the company views Wimax as the "natural evolution" of its wireless broadband products and plans to support the standard fully.

Wimax in the enterprise

Although these announcements are good news for the Wimax standard, they will not change businesses' attitude to Wimax overnight, said Ian Fogg, senior broadband analyst at Jupiter Research.

Wimax network operators will need to invest in extending the range of their network coverage if they want more people to use their services. However, Fogg said this was unlikely to happen until more client devices become available.

The main problem for Wimax, said Fogg, is that wireless technologies in general take four to five years to mature, and competing wireless technologies are not standing still.

Around since the mid-1990s, it was not till 2003 that 3G was introduced in the UK, and the explosion in Wi-Fi adoption did not occur until Intel embedded it in laptops.

"Wimax will have to compete with these technologies, not as they stand today, but how they will have evolved in capability and ubiquity," said Fogg.

He said 3G cellular networks will increase in reach in the UK, and advancements in data speeds through upgrades such as High-Speed Packet Access and Long Term Evolution will improve offerings. If users deem these advancements sufficient, Wimax could face stiff competition.

Case study: creative tank

Marketing company Creative Tank has to upload large video and audio files to tight deadlines. It uses dedicated lines, but often finds it difficult to get sufficient upload capacity when off site at an event.

To remedy this, the company implemented Wimax as a way of securing temporary connections that would allow it to upload media files faster.

"We used Wimax for live broadcasts in London, where we have difficulty establishing a landline connection, or outside the capital, where we are often forced to use a costly satellite connection," said Chris Dabbs, group account director at Creative Tank.

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