Gordon And Mike's ICT Podcast
Perspectives on Technology and Education from Gordon F. Snyder, Jr. & Mike Qaissaunee

WiMax - Why Not?

Craig McCaw is a visionary, who has had an uncanny ability to predict the future of technology.  WiMAX has the potential to do for broadband access what cell phones have done for telephony - replacing cable and DSL services, providing universal Internet access just about anywhere - especially for suburban and rural blackout areas.

Just like in the early 1980's Clearwire's Craig O. McCaw has been buying up licensed radio spectrum. You may not have heard of Craig but in the early 80's he recognized local cell permits being sold by the the FCC were greatly undervalued and he started bidding cellular phone licenses. He did his buying under the radar screen of the telcos and, by the time they recognized what he was doing it was basically too late � Craig had already purchased and owned licenses in most of the major markets.

Of course he had the money - in 1986 Craig and his brothers sold a cable television business their father had left them for $755 million and concentrated on building a national cellular phone network. The story continues - MCI Communications sold its cellular and paging operations to Craig in 1986 for $122 million and their company went public with the brothers holding around 40% of the company. His last big acquisition in the cell market was the $3.5 billion deal for LIN Broadcasting where he outbid Bell South. With the LIN acquisition Craig and his brothers had almost complete control of the 1989 U. S. cell market.

McCaw brothers sold the company to AT&T in 1994 for $11.5 billion and a lot of people figured they would just ride off into the sunset � not the case!

Fast forward to today - Clearwire, under Craig's direction, has quietly purchased enough licensed radio spectrum  to build a national WiMAX network.

What is WiMax?
Let's begin by putting WiMax in context.  You and I both have cable modems. This is Broadband access - for residential access either a DSL or cable modem and at the office either a T1 or a T3 line - pretty expensive and not available in all areas
We also have WiFi access - at home, at work or on the road WiFi routers or wireless access points provide mobility with connectivity - hot spots are very small, so coverage is sparse
not that many years ago, we both used dial-up access - many (71%) use dial-up either because broadband is not available or too expensive - painfully slow
That's where WiMax comes in to the picture. WiMAX or Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access is the name given to the IEEE 802.16 wireless standard, which provides:

  • speed of comparable to broadband service
  • wireless access (significantly cheaper than cable or DSL and much easier to extend to suburban and rural areas)
  • broad coverage - much more like a cellular network rather than small isolated WiFi hotspots
WiMAX works much like WiFi but supports higher speeds, greater distances and a greater number of users.
What's needed for WiMax?
WiMAX components include:
  • A WiMAX tower, not unlike a cell-phone tower, but able to cover a much larger area - up to 3000 square miles for a single tower versus 10 sqr miles for cell  [Rhole Island is 1045 sqr miles; Bermuda 22 sqr miles; and Delaware 2489 sqr miles]
  • The second component is a WiMAX receiver (a small box or PCMCIA card, or integrated into a laptop - like WiFi in Centrino/Pentium M)
A WiMAX tower can connect directly to the Internet using a wired connection (e.g. a T3 line) or connect to another WiMAX tower using a line-of-sight, microwave link. 

Can you give us some specs for WiMax

WiMAX can provide two forms of wireless service:
non-line-of-sight, WiFi sort of service,

  • a small antenna on your computer connects to the tower

  • uses a lower frequency range -- 2 GHz to 11 GHz (similar to WiFi)

  • lower-wavelength transmissions provide greater immunity to physical obstructions

  • limited to a 4-to-6 mile radius (~25 square miles of coverage; similar in range to a cell tower)

line-of-sight service,
  • fixed dish antenna points to the WiMAX tower from a rooftop or pole
  • stronger and more stable, so it's able to send a lot of data with fewer errors
  • use higher frequencies (up to 66 GHz)
  • at higher frequencies - less interference; more bandwidth.

Currently, the fastest WiFi connection is up to 54 megabits per second under optimal conditions. WiMAX is predicted to handle up to 70 megabits per second - providing the equivalent of cable modem speeds even when shared by several dozen businesses or a few hundred home users. Distance is where WiMax really outshines WiFi - while WiFi has a range of about 300 feet, WiMAX will provide wireless access for a radius of 30 miles. The increased range is due to the frequencies used and the power of the transmitter. Of course, at that distance, terrain, weather and large buildings will act to reduce the maximum range in some circumstances, but the potential is there to cover large geographic areas.


What would happen if I got WiMAX

An Internet service provider sets up a WiMAX base station 10 miles from your home. You'll need a WiMAX-enabled computer or upgrade your old computer to add WiMAX capability. You would receive a special encryption code that would give you access to the base station. Potentially, the cost could be much lower than current high-speed Internet fees because the provider never had to run cables. For your home network, things wouldn't change much. A WiMAX base station would send data to a WiMAX-enabled router, which would then send the data to the different computers on your network. You could even combine WiFi with WiMAX by having the router send the data to the computers via WiFi.

Craig has also attracted some major investors with Motorola and Intel giving him close to $900 million in July. Rumor has it that, with Clearwire's potential network, within 3 years the company will be able to offer nationwide WiMAX service for around $25 per month which is significantly less that people are currently paying for other providers nationwide lower bandwidth data services.

Clearwire is not without competition. According to WiMAXTrends.com:

        On August 8 Sprint Nextel President and CEO Gary Forsee announced that Sprint will adopt WiMAX as it technology choice for its next generation "4G" network.              Mr. Forsee announced that its current EV-DO network will complement a mobile WiMAX network.  The mobile WiMAX network will be utilized with a full range of             WiMAX-embedded devices.

The products are coming and the providers are committed to build the network. This makes me think seriously about the Muni WiFi initiatives we are seeing springing up in most U.S. cities. Will they survive? If I'm a business person on the road do I take my chances on Muni WiFi or do I just pay Clearwire $25 per month for guranteed access?

  References:

A Wake Up Call from Craig McCaw, Business Week Magazine, July 24, 2006

The Wizard of Wireless: http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/mcc0bio-1

SPRINT NEXTEL ANNOUNCES THAT WIMAX IS TECHNOLOGY CHOICE FOR ITS NEXT GENERATION "4G" NETWORK: http://WiMAXTrends.com

 

Direct download: wimax_whynot_FINAL.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 7:44pm EST