Next Steps for WiMAX

By Jeff Goldman

July 29, 2005

From satellite-delivered WiMAX to WiMAX LANs, companies are already exploring new applications for the nascent technology.

Before actual WiMAX networks have even been deployed, some of the companies involved with the technology have already begun looking at its potential to provide services reaching beyond citywide deployments and other wide area networks.

Last week at the WiMAX Forum Plenary in Vancouver, satellite provider PanAmSat demonstrated transmission of live video to handheld devices over satellite-delivered WiMAX. “Satellite-delivered WiMAX technology is the future for handheld devices such as smartphones and laptops,” asserts Bruce Haymes, PanAmSat’s Senior Vice President of Business Development.

According to the company, potential applications for satellite-delivered WiMAX include providing wireless broadband access over large areas for emergency personnel, as well as flexible deployment of satellite newsgathering services and IPTV. Delivering WiMAX over satellite, PanAmSat says, will enable the technology to reach wider areas, particularly remote rural areas, than might otherwise be possible.

At the same time, WiMAX chip vendor Cygnus Communications is heading in the opposite direction, looking at the possibility of using WiMAX instead of Wi-Fi for indoor LANs. Mike Librizzi, Cygnus’ Vice President of Marketing, cautions that this is currently just an idea—it’s not a business plan for the company.

The point, Librizzi says, is that extending WiMAX into the home creates additional opportunities for the operator. “Whether it’s licensed or unlicensed, the mechanisms within WiMAX allow the operator to traverse the network and manage services to edge devices,” he says. “And an edge device could be an IP set-top box or a WiMAX CPE modem.”

An operator could then provide premium services like voice over IP or videoconferencing at any place in the home, controlling and charging for a complete solution of bundled WAN and LAN services to the customer.

Similarly, LAN services could be used to complement WAN services from the same provider, assuming they’re all on the same licensed spectrum. “We could have an access point in the home that’s operating on a licensed band, and my cell phone could either talk to that access point or to a base station in the neighborhood—whichever has better signal strength and better connectivity,” Librizzi says.

One key argument for a WiMAX LAN, Librizzi says, would be the quality of service available for in-home video and audio streaming—a WiMAX LAN would be far more attractive to content providers than a Wi-Fi LAN ever could be. “Tell HBO you’re going to send their premium service over an unlicensed band, and you won’t get a license to HBO’s content,” he says.

None of this, Librizzi says, would require any changes to the WiMAX spec itself—it’s simply a matter of increasing economies of scale, and decreasing the area that a base station is intended to serve. “It’s really just scaling down what is defined as a base station today to meet the needs of a low cost access point,” he says.

Still, this isn’t even on the agenda for Cygnus Communications, Librizzi says, let alone in development—and he’s the first to say that WiMAX providers may never even see it as a viable offering. “In WiMAX, we’re untethered—put the modem anywhere,” he says. “If I make it cheap enough, just give it away, and you don’t even need a home network.”

Originally published on .

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