HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
August 13, 2007, Herald Journal

2008 will see start of ‘WiMax’ revolution


You say you want a revolution?

The industry’s top communications providers are positioning themselves in what will be the “biggest game” to be played in the world of wireless technology.

As you know Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) is a leading technology being used today for accessing the Internet from a computer without the need for a wired or cabled connection.

We see “wireless computer users” at Internet wireless “hot-spots” and in the local coffee shops busily typing away on their keyboards or mouse-clicking while sipping from a mug containing their favorite beverage.

These folks are most likely cruising the Internet by means of Wi-Fi, which uses the 802.11b/g standard.

One of the drawbacks of Wi-Fi wireless technology is its limited range of around 300 feet. If you wanted a larger coverage area, you needed to add more Wi-Fi antennas.

The latest talk today in the high-tech industry is “WiMax,” which stands for “Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access.”

WiMax is a wireless broadband signaling technology using the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 802.16 standard that was designed to extend Wi-Fi networks across greater distances.

WiMax also allows for more efficient bandwidth use, is less susceptible to interference and allows higher data rates over longer distances.

The 802.16 standard is theoretically capable of transmitting packet-switched data up to 70 Mbps per second as far as 31 miles using a “fixed” direct-line-of-sight transmission system. Near-line-of-sight (NLOS) conditions will reduce this range. “Mobile” WiMax systems will allow anywhere from 3 to 10 miles of coverage, which is vastly superior to what the 802.11 Wi-Fi provides.

WiMax is seen by communication providers as the “holy-grail” solution for providing high-speed multiple broadband connections to what is commonly known in the telecom industry as the “last-mile.”

The last mile, (which could actually be more or less than just one mile) refers to those who have cabled telecommunications services at the geographically furthest outer range of the serving central office. This has always proved to be the most difficult (and costly) area for communications service providers to reach and maintain.

A WiMax wireless solution eliminates the need to bury expensive cables (copper or fiber) in order to provide high-speed multi-channel broadband services.

The use of WiMax technology will not be just for those “last-mile” situations, however.

The City of Minneapolis has been constructing a 59-mile radius of infrastructure for their new Wi-Fi system. This requires connecting up to 2,000 wireless Wi-Fi antennas throughout the city on light poles, traffic signals and buildings.

Now comes along this “new” WiMax technology with one antenna tower, which has the theoretical range of 31 miles and supports numerous simultaneous users.

As they say, “timing is everything.”

Yes, I heard you out there asking “that” question, and yes, WiMax will work with and actually compliment the existing Wi-Fi technology currently being used.

Computer chip maker Intel Corporation has recently announced it will be providing the processors needed for notebook computers supporting WiMax in 2008.

Intel will present “Montevina,” the codename for its next-generation notebook processor technology that will support both Wi-Fi and WiMax technologies. Look for notebook computer manufacturers to begin marketing WiMax compatible personal computers starting in July of 2008.

Starting in January of 2008, the FCC will begin auctioning off the 700 MHz frequency spectrum range that is currently being used by the local television broadcasters. The amount of revenue from the auction is expected to bring in over 15 billion dollars.

The FCC put in a requirement that the winners of these auctions set aside spectrum to be used for “Public Safety/Private Partnership.” This rule will allow local emergency services priority access in the event of an emergency.

Much of this “golden bandwidth” will be used to deliver the “signals” of a WiMax transmission system. The spectrum’s use will change from broadcasting analog television signals to being the transmission “medium of choice” for providing voice, video and internet packet data streams.

February 17, 2009 is the deadline for all television broadcast stations to stop transmitting their analog signals over-the-air and convert to all digital television signal broadcasting. You can read about this in my October 23, 2006 column entitled “Good-Bye to analog broadcast TV.”

Some communications companies will want to use this new frequency spectrum for handling calls, accessing the Internet and providing “real-time” streaming video channels.

The communications providers that will be bidding for this lucrative 700 MHz frequency spectrum will include many telephone, wireless, cable, cellular network companies and also Google.

The link to the Intel Corporation website is http://www.intel.com/.

The link to the city of Minneapolis Wi-Fi website can be found at http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/wirelessminneapolis/.

There are many more technical aspects about WiMax that I just didn’t have room for in this week’s column. For more detailed information about WiMax, please check out http://www.wimax.com/education/faq.