WiMax, WiFi... why wireless?

Wireless broadband has obvious applications for mobile workers. Ian Yates explores whether it has a future as a fixed line substitute too.

The OPEL consortium will soon be spending a billion of our dollars to deliver broadband to the bush, and they're going to use WiMax, but they're not the only ones interested in that technology. Telarus provides broadband to enterprise clients via fibre and copper usually, but recently the company has signed up with BigAir to provide wireless broadband as well. Why on Earth would an enterprise outfit want to use wireless broadband?

Ian Yates asked Jules Rumsey, the managing director of Telarus, to explain.

Rumsey: The services that BigAir provide to us sounded perfectly suitable for enterprise clients. In terms of the fit for us it's simply a matter that once we offer services like DSL and high end DSL at that, along with say fibre based services like Ethernet, there are always going to be gaps in coverage or there are going to be areas where you can't deliver exactly what it is that the client needs with a fixed line service. So these services give us a fantastic opportunity to plug a gap there and make sure we can deliver what our clients need.

Yates: And do they have the kind of speeds that business needs? Everyone is used to wireless - they think WiFi and they think 50megs but lies you know - what sort of speeds can you give?

Rumsey: It depends on what sort of client you're talking about. I mean, we service everything from the SME out to the [price markets], and for a lot of clients, even getting a service at a decent service quality at say two or four megabits per second might be a challenge in some area, but for clients that need up to say twenty five megabits per second, which is quite a significant volume of clients, these services are perfectly appropriate.

Yates: I guess the other area where it's useful would be disaster recovery. Having two ways to get to your network is always a good idea isn't it, and going through the air might be better than you know, if somebody digs up the street you're still on the air - is that appealing?

Rumsey: Absolutely. You're always in a challenge obviously with six line services, but pretty much everything will come through either the same [ducts] or ducts close to each other at the base of the building, which leaves you exposed in the event that anything happens to the road or the dux or someone puts a [unclear] through the street. So having a service that comes in on a mast at the top of the building that's completely independent of those traditional six line services makes a real difference.

Yates: So there will be a couple of markets there. You'll have the market where users can't get a decent ADSL/DSL service, because there's no fibre or there's no network station for them to use, so they've got to go somewhere like wireless, and then you've got the others who might have a perfectly good DSL feed, but they want the security of another way of entry to the building, and as you say that mast on the top.

Rumsey: In fact there's probably a third case there too, where you have clients that may be able to get DSL, but they're only able to get a service like whatever the Telstra DSL network that can't provide appropriate service quality for them. So clients that are looking to do say voice and video over a DSL service, but they might be able to get say a 512k symmetric service on the Telstra network, but still being UDR and specified bit rate, it's not really appropriate to the sort of protocols that they're planning to run over it.

Yates: So they're not able to hire themselves a nice piece of fibre or they can't afford it, but you can get this wireless service and you can do exactly what you want with it point to point.

Rumsey: Correct. I mean with fibre, it's usually possible [to connect] fibre across any CBD or metro area, but in some cases you'll find that there's a fairly substantial sort of build cost associated with getting the fibre in.

Yates: Especially if you are the first one.

Rumsey: And if the customer has the option of a fibre service or a wireless service at the same speed, with the same sort of service quality and very similar up time, it might be an easy choice for them.

Yates: Do you think it's going to expand in the future? Do you think there's going to be more of this - it's WiMax that you're going to be getting through BigAir isn't it?

Rumsey: It is, yeah.

Yates: And do you think WiMax is a proven technology that will be growing in the future, as Telstra is sort of saying that Next G is as good as WiMax.

Rumsey: Well there's certainly a lot of momentum behind it. If you have a look at the work that has been done by the WiMax forum and others, there are a lot of people out there betting that WiMax is going to be a fairly major technology in terms of network for the future, and I think the general feeling with Australia is that it's too big a country to be serviced by one type of technology, terrestrial or wireless.

Yates: No matter how good the technology, we're just too big?

Rumsey: Just given the geographic diversity that we've got, there's a need to have a mix of different technologies working together in order to deliver maximum coverage.

Yates: Now for readers who don't know, WiMax is not like WiFi, you don't just sort of bump into it do you? With WiMax it's a point-to-point thing; you set it up, like DSL without wires? Yes?

Rumsey: Well it's not necessarily point to point; it can be point to multi-point.

Yates: Oops!

Rumsey: So it's similar actually in terms of WiFi as to how it's delivered, but the standards are obviously subtly different. It provides better overall throughput and better coverage.

Yates: Right. What I've been reading about WiMax, it's only been discussions of point-to-point. I didn't realise that you could spray it around and kind of use it as a super duper WiFi as well.

Rumsey: Correct.

Yates: Do you think that sort of use of that technology is going to evolve, putting in hotspots via WiMax, or will they just stick with WiFi for that kind of service?

Rumsey: My understanding of the OPEL network deployment is it's going to be a point-to-multi-point deployment.

Yates: Right.

Rumsey: So you look at a service like that, which has been delivered en masse at quite a reasonable coverage area, and also to look at a company like Unwired - they've always indicated that whilst they've deployed pre WiMax technology initially, but at some point, once the technology was available and stable in a variety that they were comfortable with that they'd retro set the network for WiMax.

Yates: And switch?

Rumsey: And there have been plenty of other players.

Yates: Right. Now currently this gives you what access to the Melbourne and Sydney markets, it's a big area, and all those guys are going to be popping up in other places. I mean Brisbane is a pretty big market these days too for you isn't it?

Rumsey: Yeah, well certainly I remember from discussions with Jason Ashton from BigAir. They're on a pretty big path towards expanding their network, and are intending to expand the network across all capital cities within Australia over a period of time. At this stage, the interconnect that we've got with BigAir is in Sydney, and as you probably know, we had an existing interconnect with Pacific Wireless.

Yates: Yes, down south?

Rumsey: They had quite a significant number of services on it for us. So I daresay it will be a growing part of our business.

Yates: Okay. Well, no need to despair; if your company can't get the ADSL/fibre connection it needs, you may well be able to get it through WiMax.

Rumsey: Correct. At this stage we've already had a significant amount of take-up from our clients in terms of either just trying to fill those gaps, or looking for disaster recovery. So it certainly does seem to be working for us.


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