Wi-LAN's Sign is LIBRA

By Jeff Goldman

November 15, 2004

The Canadian company says its fourth-gen OFDM system is the charm for those looking to get future WiMax support in a product today.

Canadian wireless equipment maker Wi-LAN today introduced its pre-WiMax LIBRA MX product, designed to offer the benefits of WiMax technology before the standard itself is certified.

"It allows people to deploy WiMax-class networks today in a carrier-grade system and have the high spectral efficiency and non line of sight of OFDM," says Dr. Sayed-Amr El-Hamamsy, Wi-LAN's CEO.

Thus far, El-Hamamsy says, the broadband wireless market hasn't picked up largely because of a lack of customer confidence in the vendors. "Everyone was flouting their proprietary technology," he says. "There was always the risk of having a single source, and you cannot deploy large networks on that basis. Even large companies that had proprietary solutions were never truly committed to them, so there was always a danger there that they would shut down the division."

The balance between price and performance, he adds, has also been a challenge.

"There's been inexpensive equipment which looks good on paper, but the performance was insufficient," El-Hamamsy says. "And at the other end, there's high performance equipment, but it's been too expensive to allow for a mass market to develop."

WiMax eventually promises to solve all of those problems by introducing interoperability, lowering costs, and vastly improving performance. "We believe WiMax changes the game for broadband wireless access and enables the mass market to emerge," El-Hamamsy says.

By purchasing the LIBRA MX platform before WiMax is certified, El-Hamamsy suggests, a company could get ahead of the curve and start realizing the benefits of WiMax before competitors do. "The customer who starts right away has the advantage of being able to target the most lucrative locations, the most lucrative customers, and the highest average revenue per unit (ARPU)—and also gets to develop their network and learn the technology while they're not yet under the pressure of intense competition," he says.

The customers targeted for the initial release of LIBRA MX, El-Hamamsy says, are ILECs, CLECs, and ISPs, which could include everyone from utilities to wireless service providers. The equipment can be used to deploy hotzones like the one currently in place in Vantaa, Finland —and can also be used to support applications like voice over IP. "The combination of voice over IP with WiMax is going to be a very compelling story," El-Hamamsy says.

The LIBRA MX base station, El-Hamamsy says, is capable of supporting both WiMax (once certified), and Wi-LAN's proprietary implementation of W-OFDM, in the same system. The company's Continuity Program guarantees a seamless transition to compatibility with any future WiMax systems.

Ultimately, El-Hamamsy says, his company's long experience in this area may be the strongest selling point for the system.

"We've been out there for many years developing the technology, and selling OFDM systems since 1999," he says. "We've got long field-proven capabilities. We've been deploying 256 OFDM, which is the basis of the standard, since September 2001—so LIBRA MX is really our fourth generation system."

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