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WiMAX, VoIP, Killer Apps and the Digital Divide

Aug 17, 2007
The emerging standard 802.16 defines a network of wireless broadband at speeds capable of delivering triple play access to voice, data, and multimedia internet services. As a disruptive technology, WiMAX stands to compete with cable companies, the Telcos, and the 3G cellular networks. Thanks to the IEEE standards committee and the WiMAX Forum, the fledgling technology that got serious in 2004 is now being deployed in regions around the world.

Companies like Intel with their World Ahead program have formed partnerships for WiMAX deployments in Asia, Africa, and Europe, in an all out effort to bridge the digital divide. The cost effectiveness and ease of a WiMAX deployment is significant compared to implementing a wireline infrastructure, making the technology a natural choice for underdeveloped townships and hard to reach localities.

As it stands today, most of the deployments are of Fixed WiMAX, offering VoIP and data transfers through line of site and non line of site antennae, with a fiber optic, satellite, or WiMAX backhaul, i.e. Internet connection.

In 2008, the 802.16e standard known as Mobile WiMAX is expected to come of age. Mobile WiMAX will provide for faster handoffs and will be able to compete with the cellular 3G networks. As a technology based on open standards, WiMAX is considered to be future proof, in that upgrades to emerging standards should be easily accomplished.

In the United States, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin recently stated that broadband access is a top priority for the FCC, and that the upcoming auction of frequencies in the 700MHz spectrum provides an opportunity for wireless internet access to become a third choice for consumers.

Today, most of the WiMAX 2.5 GHz spectrum is owned by Sprint Nextel and Clearwire Communications. Martin says the FCC is auctioning off some of the spectrum in smaller blocks to give smaller companies a chance to compete, and to bolster overall competition in the industry.

The 700 MHz ban would be especially well suited for Mobile WiMAX, delivering large amounts of data at low power. The spectrum is being made available because of the analog to digital television transition. Another advantage of this range is its ability to penetrate deep into dense structures, potentially making the dropped call phenomenon so typical of todays cell phones a thing of the past.

WiMAX is a robust technology, capable of delivering large amounts of data at high speeds over an area of daisy chained base stations. But what will be the Killer App in a WiMAX network? The one application that gains widespread acceptance, makes the most money, and fosters development and competition.

Some think the killer app could be TV over WiMAX. The company MobiTV is working with the WiMAX Forum to do just that. They already bring over 50 channels to your phone or PC, and also offer TV over WiFi.

For municipalities and those concerned with homeland security, surveillance could be the ultimate app. Cities could easily and cheaply cover all departments with a single T1 backhaul, police would have instant access to data, mug shots etc, and wireless cameras could be deployed to monitor security sensitive areas. Crime could potentially cease to exist with big brother on constant wireless alert!

Probably the biggest money maker for a WiMAX network would be Internet telephony. VoIP has already been deployed on WiMAX networks throughout the world, and the very concept of cheap phone calls globally has led consumers to VoIP pure plays like Vonage or Packet8, and the cable companies are also getting into the act.

For the underdeveloped populations most effected by the digital divide, cheap, reliable phone service could open up a whole brave new world.
About the Author
Author Michael Talbert is a certified systems engineer and web designer with over 7 years experience in the industry. For more information on WiMAX, read the series of articles starting with WiMax, VoIP, and the Metropolitan Area Network. For more on VoIP, visit the website VoIP-Facts.net.
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