Is WiMAX the Answer for Underserved Areas?

By Ted Stevenson

April 17, 2009

WiMAX networks may begin to gain a foothold this year in those "underserved" markets the stimulus money is intended for--not just for Internet, but for voice, as well.

Expect to see WiMAX networks gain a rapid foothold in the Internet service business. Why? Because they're significantly cheaper to deploy than any other kind of broadband network. And, thanks to the efforts of hosted VoIP providers, such as Utah-based Alianza Corp., bundling voice with WiMAX-based Internet service is proving to be a simple and profitable play.

And, according to Alianza's vice president of products and business development, Steve Jones, lots and lots of WiMAX-based service providers are soon going to be offering just such a service bundle. (Virginia-based Digital Bridge Communications already is.)

"Three of the top five [U.S.] WiMAX service providers are either under way with a pilot with Alianza or are signed customers," said Jones.

Moreover, according to Jones, this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. "We feel there's some natural growth of opportunities here," he said. "Voice deregulation is occurring as we speak, and it presents a great opportunity for these WiMAX guys to come in and offer broadband coupled with voice. Because of the economic variables around that—because of the hosted nature of our service—we're a very compelling solution."

But it's not simply being a highly scalable provider of hosted VoIP that's putting Alianza in the way of all this new business. The architecture of the company's platform makes it easy to integrate, according to Jones. "At a certain point, we're agnostic as to the underlying broadband network—what type of network it is, whether it's cable, or DSL, or WiMAX, or even dial-up in some areas," he explained.

"We found in the last year, in revamping our platform, that there's great upside for technical integration with WiMAX networks," said Jones. And to that end, the company has been working with several WiMAX infrastructure providers to maximize such integration potential.

Last November, Alianza made a joint announcement with WiMAX infra provider Redline Communications Group, Inc. that the companies have "validated interoperability of products and services to accelerate voice offerings to WiMAX service providers." The companies tested Alianza's voice platform with Redline's RedMAX systems, in the latter's Redline Ecosystem Verification program (REV), demonstrating interoperability with both fixed and mobile WiMAX technology.

"A key there is that their devices are optimized in a way to understand how it is that we have managed our voice packets," Jones explained, "so that we can subject our traffic to their administrative console to take advantage of their quality of service modules." In less technical language, Redline's technology helps Alianza's platform to manage the prioritization of voice traffic between the endpoint and the voice network. "And for voice guys who live and die by the quality of the connection, that's a big opportunity for us."

So, who's most likely to benefit from the coming voice over WiMAX boom? Probably not people or businesses in areas that already have abundant communications choices. According to Steve Jones, it's more likely to get a foothold in "underserved urban areas," towns like Idaho Falls and Rexburg, Idaho, for example, "places that are off the map," as Jones puts it.

Not only will such communities benefit from improved availability and quality of phone service—at reasonable cost—they'll get more sophisticated, up-to-date services.

"The other thing that I think makes it compelling for small towns or municipalities," Jones said, "is the distinction in the service packages. We do some pretty good things for business customers, and the small and midsized business certainly gets underserved by the cable giants of the world—and some of the other broadband players—so we feel pretty good about that."

Article adapted from

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