WiMax critic makes U-turn

Navini Networks, a critic of the WiMax effort to create standardised wireless broadband, has joined the WiMax Forum.

Navini Networks a critic of the WiMax effort to create standardised wireless broadband has joined the WiMax Forum.

The networking equipment company, which has customers in more than 25 countries, will become one of the first to offer a clearly defined upgrade path from its own proprietary form of wireless broadband to WiMax.

Recent studies have shown that the adoption of proprietary systems such as Navini's is likely to delay the widespread adoption of WiMax, so prices will stay high and around the same as the existing systems. Nevertheless, Pyramid Research expected the WiMax industry to hit an annual turnover of $1bn by 2009.

Navini's existing Ripwave products are based on a proprietary technology known as multi-carrier synchronous CDMA, and are designed with mobile wireless broadband in mind - essentially the same as the 802.16e standard on which the mobile form of WiMax will be based. Another standard 802.16d, is aimed at fixed connections. Both standards 802.16e are expected to be ratified later this year.

The upgrade path to WiMax will take two stages. First, software on its Ripwave gear will be upgraded to allow partial compatibility with WiMax networks. Then, from mid-2005, new equipment will be fully 802.16-compatible.

The company had previously backed a rival standards group known as 802.20, which counts Flarion and ArrayComm among its other supporters.

This standard has similar aims to 802.16e, but would not be compatible with WiMax, making it more difficult to mass-manufacture equipment that would cover both wireless and fixed wireless broadband. Once 802.16e began to make significant progress, Navini moved to WiMax.

"It is our belief that standards are necessary to facilitate the healthy growth of this industry," said Navini president Alastair Westgarth.

Wireless broadband offers several major benefits over traditional leased lines or ADSL connections, including the ability to roam in connected areas and to use a single subscription for multiple locations, which would, otherwise, all need their own connection.

Companies also have the option of setting up their own WiMax networks, eliminating dependence on a service provider.

"Just as wireless phones began replacing landline phones once performance became similar, we expect much greater demand for wireless broadband service now that speeds are comparable to DSL and cable broadband connections, with the additional benefit of access while on the go," said IDC program director Scott Ellison.

Among Navini's recent customer signings is Irish Broadband, which, last month, said it would deploy Ripwave across Dublin. In the meantime, WiMax's proprietary competition is continuing to gain ground. US carrier Nextel Communications earlier this week commercially launched a Flarion-based system.

The strong demand for such proprietary services shows that service providers will not necessarily wait for an unknown quantity such as WiMax, despite Intel-generated publicity, analysts said.

At the moment, customers are attaching more importance to factors such as performance than to standardisation.

Matthew Broersma writes for Techworld.com

Read more on IT strategy