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A way around WiMAX?

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Column A very large comms corporation is kissing babies, preparatory to launching something new next week. Details are under embargo, but my chat with them this week provoked an enthusiastic discussion about whether 802.16e really is useful in mobile telephony.

We ended up agreeing that in the UK, Europe, and America, the problems of setting up the infrastructure really made WiMAX a marginal product for the next two years. That, of course, leaves Africa, much of South America, and some of the developing parts of Asia. We decided that there is, definitely, enough of a market there to make a launch worthwhile.

Exactly what will be launched is what I have to keep under wraps, but suffice it for now to say that a hybrid product is involved, and it won't involve standard GSM or CDMA mobile wireless. As to what it will involve, you are at liberty to guess that WiMAX might come into it...

The WiMAX technology has been heavily hyped. Intel, in particular, wants to see it become an absolute standard, with WiMAX wireless on every laptop computer. For that to work, it has to be a wireless network available everywhere in the world.

WiMAX comes in several flavours, of course, but if we ignore the Korean WiBro version, it's fixed (802.16d) and mobile (802.16e) and the mobile is, according to the PR machinery, now in full "approved, rolling out" mode.

A quick check of the archives shows that this isn't the full picture. If it was, there would be no need for the 802.20 standard. But that doesn't mean that 16e is useless. It may, in fact, be quite handy for small, rural communities.

Exactly why anybody would want to use 802.16e - mobile WiMAX - for mobile phones, may need some explaining. There are disagreements about this, and it's hard to be sure when people are offering technical arguments or political ones.

The infrastructure needed to roll out WiMAX in London is daunting. My friends estimate that you'd need a transceiver node - a cell - at a rate of several hundred per square mile. Admittedly, they'd be (technically) possible to locate on top of lamp-posts.

My objection was just troublemaking, I suppose. I said the problem with WiMAX is that it can't be license free.

Originally, Intel launched WiMAX as something that would run at 2.4 GHz in the licence free zone of the spectrum map, where anybody can buy the equipment and plug it in. We're starting to see the drawbacks of this as Wi-Fi channels run out in 2.4 GHz and people are having to switch to 802.11a for speed, to avoid congestion. All proponents of WiMAX now seem to accept that it has to be a licensed spectrum, and it's over to the technical politicians to select the best wavebands...but there's a problem with putting up licensed radio transmitters for comms - planning permission.

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