Mobility Is The Key
By Mike Masnick, Wed Sep 15 23:30:00 GMT 2004

Everyone's talking about WiMAX these days, but other wireless broadband solutions are available already, and they provide one key benefit: mobility.

WiMAX gets most of the wide area wireless broadband attention these days, but people forget that there are other, competing solutions -- some of which are already available. Some people even seem to assume that WiMAX is a generic term that refers to any and all wide area wireless broadband technologies. In the case of both Flarion's FLASH-OFDM technology and IP Wireless' UMTS-TDD the technologies offer one big benefit to the version of WiMAX that's coming out now: mobility.

Flarion has received a lot of attention for its offering, as it has signed up high-profile trials in the US, Asia, Europe and Australia. In the US, Nextel (which, it should be noted, is trialling just about every possible wireless broadband technology around) is running a test in the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina which it launched last February. Some writers for Mobile Pipeline tested out the technology and were unexpectedly surprised with how well it worked -- especially when tested on the go, in a car. The bandwidth was still quite fast (much faster than any 3G solution) and even the latency (more accurately lack thereof) was impressive.

The IP Wireless solution hasn't received nearly as much attention, but it's also a viable challenger with trial deployments around the world. Earlier this year, Pacific Century Cyber Works (PCCW) bought up plenty of spectrum around the UK for use in a wide area wireless broadband solution. While some in the press mistakenly referred to the PCCW offering as WiMAX, it was really using TDD. However, now, the company admits that the reason it went with TDD over WiMAX was mobility. While there are some questions about whether or not the spectrum licenses PCCW owns allow mobile solutions, it does, once again, emphasize the importance of mobility.

Having a fixed, wide area mobile solution is one thing. It acts as backhaul and potentially as a replacement for DSL, cable or other fixed broadband solutions. It may help to cover some previously unconnected areas, but it doesn't allow for much more. Adding in a mobile component, however, changes the game. It lets people do things they could not have done before and opens up the potential for many new services and applications. WiMAX, however, won't have mobility for quite some time. The version that will soon be available is 802.16d, designed as a fixed wireless solution. There's still some time before the mobile solution (802.16e) is agreed upon, and then an even longer period of time until equipment is available. On top of that, there are already some questions about patents and spectrum concerning WiMAX, while others are realizing that the standard is much more complex than many expected.

WiMAX still has plenty of potential, of course. Lots of very large companies are lining up behind it. However, the real differentiator for wide area wireless broadband is going to be mobility and what that allows. While other solutions already have that available today, WiMAX is lagging behind.