WiMax Promises Broadband Breakthrough
A new wireless networking technology, called WiMax, is poised to reshape how service providers offer broadband Internet access in the United States and other countries, increasing the likelihood that high-speed network services will take off in these markets, according to a senior Intel executive.
WiMax, also known as 802.16a, is a wireless networking standard that offers greater range and bandwidth than the Wi-Fi family of standards, which includes 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g. Whereas Wi-Fi is intended to provide coverage within a relatively small area, such as an office or a hotspot, WiMax can transfer data at around 70 megabits per second over a distance of 30 miles to thousands of users from a single base station.
By comparison, the most commonly used flavor of Wi-Fi, 802.11b, has a maximum data transfer speed of 11 mbps and a range of up to 1000 feet in open areas.
The greater range and higher bandwidth of WiMax will enable service providers to offer broadband Internet access directly to homes without having to worry about the problems that can arise in laying down a physical connection over the so-called "last mile" that links homes with service providers' main networks, according to Anand Chandrasekher, vice president and general manager of Intel's Mobile Platforms Group.
"WiMax is a very effective replacement for the last mile for broadband," Chandrasekher said in an interview this week.
Besides making broadband services easier to offer, WiMax can help service providers cut the costs associated with installing broadband Internet connections.
"For a service provider to provide broadband, it costs about $400 just getting the truck out there, doing the installation," Chandrasekher said.
On average, installing a single broadband connection takes about 20 minutes, Chandrasekher said. In a worst-case scenario, however, the time can stretch to as long as 2 hours, increasing the installation costs for the service provider and wiping out its profits in the process, he said.
"WiMax would eliminate that because with WiMax you'd be able to broadcast the broadband capabilities, and in the home environment you could have an access point," Chandrasekher said.
WiMax-based products are not currently available. The standard was finalized in January of this year, and commercial products aren't expected until 2005, according to information released by Intel on Monday at the Intel Developer Forum in Taipei.
For its part, Intel wants to be among the first companies to get WiMax-based products to the market. The company has announced plans to start production during the second half of next year of chips that can be used in WiMax-based equipment. Service provider trials are set to begin next year.
WiMax could be the key to breaking through last-mile barriers that have slowed broadband adoption in the United States--especially in rural areas, where the cost of deploying broadband connections has not been economical, Chandrasekher said. The technology could also open up availability to broadband Internet access in developing countries like China and India, he said.
WiMax will promote greater competition in countries such as Taiwan and South Korea, too, even though the rate of broadband penetration is already very high there, Chandrasekher said.
"You may see service providers [use WiMax to] compete for business. If somebody already has a wire into your house and somebody else is not going to get another wire into your house, they may choose to offer WiMax as a means of getting into that business," he said.
The higher speed and longer range of WiMax won't immediately be available in mobile computers or handsets, Chandrasekher said.
WiMax will first be used to overcome problems associated with crossing the last mile, such as local laws and regulations. Chandrasekher envisages WiMax being used to connect homes to broadband networks wirelessly through access points that incorporate Wi-Fi.
In the future, however, users will be able to connect to WiMax networks directly from their laptops or cellular handsets, Chandrasekher said.
"But that's still a ways away; the first priority is the last-mile problem," he said.