WiMax Assist for Satellite Broadcasters
November 11, 2005
WiNetworks plans to help the satellite guys become wireless broadband providers, with an emphasis on services like voice, video and games.
Everybody is excited about the promise of WiMax, for all kinds of different reasons. WiNetworks, a U.S.-based firm with R&D operations in
WiNetworks has developed patented technology that will let DBS operators leverage their existing assets mainly the rooftop wiring and set-top boxes they have installed in customers homes and fairly inexpensively add a WiMax network to provide data, VoIP, gaming and video on demand (VOD) services. The DBS system would continue to provide multi-channel pay TV services.
The company has technology trials underway with DBS operators in overseas markets, and has begun shipping equipment for the first commercial deployment somewhere in
I cant comment any further, partly because of confidentiality limitations and partly because of uncertainty, Finzi admits.
WiNetworks is selling product, but there are still question marks about some of the fundamentals of how the technology will be configured and deployed. For one thing, the current generation of products was built to operate in 3.5 GHz spectrum. In the
It is also not clear how the WiNetworks infrastructure might be used to support VOD, a key application for DBS operators because it will allow them to compete with cable providers that are already offering VOD. Earlier this month at the IBC Exhibition in
Another way to do it is for the operator to offer not-quite-VOD in its simplest form, just pay-per-view. Yet another, somewhat intriguing notion, is to exploit the low cost of mass storage and download locked content to a huge hard drive in the customers home. A significant number of movies could be stored on a disk, Finzi suggests. In both cases, WiMax would be used as an always-on return channel for ordering or unlocking content and authenticating customers.
The uncertainty about how to implement VOD using the WiNetworks solution is partly a spectrum issue. We are able to deliver VOD content over WiMax, Finzi says. What is still to be seen is how much spectrum will be available, particularly in areas where there is a higher density [of users], which is of course where the economics for this are better. Using WiMax for VOD content in the short term is going to be a bit difficult from the spectrum availability standpoint.
However it handles VOD, the WiNetworks solution will provide tight integration with both DBS customer premises equipment and back-end accounting and authentication systems. We provide the maximum level of integration so that the customer sees it as one system, Finzi says.
The WiNetworks technology has several components, including indoor and outdoor antenna/receiver units, indoor service gateways and rack-mountable base station units. It was all designed to make deploying a WiMax network for triple-play services an economically feasible proposition for DBS operators. The company achieved this in part by developing patented technology that allows it to send WiMax traffic down the existing cable running from the DBS antenna on the homeowners roof to the satellite set-top box inside. The WiNetworks service gateway then splits out traffic destined for different devices in the home computers, phones, game units, set-top boxes.
DBS operators can dramatically reduce their deployment cost by leveraging their existing asset base, Finzi says. And if you look at the infrastructure in the home, that is actually the major share of their asset base. In the
The other way WiNetworks makes it economically feasible is by reducing the need for and cost of WiMax infrastructure. Finzi claims the outside antenna unit and gateway together will cost no more than the outside equipment in a cable TV triple-play installation an outdoor solution for the price of an indoor solution is how he puts it. And having antennas on rooftops rather than inside increases base station range, reducing the number of base stations required.
WiNetworks is also using a mesh network topology to further reduce base station requirements and installation costs. The operator can install outside units on some rooftops and use them as mesh points to serve surrounding homes which then only need indoor, consumer-installable antennas. This will reduce installation costs because the operator wont have to send out an installer for those customers.
All of these different things and we have other tricks, like antennas that automatically find the best signal are all around ensuring that the cost of installation is minimal, while the need for infrastructure is reduced, Finzi says.
The other big advantage to the mesh architecture is that WiNetworks networks will be mobile-ready when the forward-compatible 802.16e standard makes possible seamless hand-offs from cell to cell. DBS operators will then be able to offer mobile as well as fixed-line VoIP and high-speed Internet services. The mesh technology will give the network the density of coverage required for such services. In standard WiMax network implementations, the operator would have to incur additional capital costs to install more base stations.
Finzi is evasive about the investment DBS operators will have to make to implement the WiNetworks solution. If all the DBS operators deployed the technology and the market universe is small; fewer than 50 operators worldwide is Finzis estimate the investment would run into the billions of dollars, he says. The operators who have looked at the solution believe the return on investment is attractive overall, he claims. What is very obvious is that the payback from deploying WiMax on its own is much less attractive.
WiNetworks is already working with major suppliers of accounting and authentication systems used by DBS operators with a view to integrating those functions. And it will work with VoIP partners or whichever VoIP partner the operator selects when the time comes. The operator will of course sit in the driving seat when putting together the triple-play solution, Finzi says.
Can the WiNetworks solution work in other sectors? It will provide the same benefits to any broadcast operator that currently has a one-way network. Other types of service providers could use the solution but would not get much more benefit than they would with a standard WiMax installation, Finzi implies.
One interesting notion: he suggests that other types of operators could use WiNetworks technology and piggyback on a DBS operators customer premises infrastructure as long as the wire [from the DBS antenna to the set-top box] is owned by the homeowner, which is the most likely situation. If nothing else, its an interesting threat to hang over the heads of DBS operators.