WiMAX Services Eye the Enterprise

This fall, a Massachusetts wireless ISP will launch its first WiMAX-based services aimed at business customers in the eastern part of the state. The move by Pipeline Wireless mirrors that of rival Towerstream in the same market, and by other similar "WiMAX WISPs" across the United States.

For most businesses, their first introduction to WiMAX will be from these kinds of wireless broadband providers, and not from the likes of Tier 1 or Tier 2 operators such as the Clearwire-Sprint partnership, which is struggling to unfold Xohm, a nationwide licensed 2.5GHz band WiMAX network aimed at mobile users. The WiMAX WISPs are using a range of other frequencies, often unlicensed, to deliver all-IP voice and data services that are more cost-effective, more responsive, and faster to deploy than conventional fiber and copper services.

Neither they nor their enterprise customers have to struggle with the current incompatibility of WiMAX equipment. WiMAX WISPs can use the same radio vendor for the base stations and for the customer premises equipment (CPE) to forge a high-quality wireless connection for fixed wireless service. The early mobile WiMAX deployments will face the same requirement, unlike Wi-Fi clients today that generally can connect to any brand of Wi-Fi access point.

Intel's combined Wi-Fi and WiMAX module will have only limited release this year, and Gartner recently warned users to hold off on mobile WiMAX investments.

(Compare WiMAX products with our online Buyer's Guide.)

And more opportunities for such WISPs, and for the WiMAX equipment vendors, are being created as the FCC releases more spectrum, both licensed and unlicensed, for WiMAX use. The City of Marietta, Ga., is using the 4.9GHz band, and Tyco M/A Com's VIDA fixed WiMAX radios, to upload real-time video streams from anticrime surveillance cameras. The FCC's release last year of the 3.65GHz-3.7GHz band led to a boomlet of approvals to WISPs planning WiMAX services: 233 as of April. Pipeline and Towerstream were both beneficiaries.

WiMAX is more than Xohm

A recent report from Maravedis, a research company that focuses on wireless broadband, concluded that WiMAX offers a lot of U.S. opportunity for companies, and customers, outside the Xohm orbit. The report projects that non-Sprint WiMAX subscribers will exceed 10 million by 2012, up from 500,000 in 2007. "A fixed and/or portable [sometimes called 'nomadic'] differentiation play, with a strong service model, integrated back-office technologies, and additional services is a powerful enough proposition to bring to market," according to the report

That's just what companies like Pipeline and Towerstream are betting on.

Pipeline customers buy a range of Internet access and private data network services, says Chris Hale, CTO for Pipeline Wireless. To date, like many similar companies, Pipeline has used proprietary high-bandwidth radio products, in this case Motorola's well-known Canopy radios, and frequencies in the 5-GHz band, to deliver enterprise services in what Hale calls the industry sweet spot: data services up to 50Mbps, though some customers have gigabit connections.

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