Delivering New Broadband Wireless

By Wes Simonds

November 23, 2004

Adaptix hopes to capitalize on using reconfigurable software-defined radio to bring mobile WiMax to the future masses.

Vern Fotheringham's at it again. Despite daunting challenges in the form of the bankruptcy of several of his previous broadband wireless companies, notably ART, Vectrad Networks, and Bazillion, the industry veteran's gone to bat with yet another.

It's not hard to see the logic behind that decision. Broadband wireless is widely regarded, like voice over IP, as a technology before its time that hit the US economy during a rough patch and which, though it may initially have outstripped the market's readiness for it, will yet have its day in the sun.

The underlying appeal of broadband wireless solutions—which roll out reliable Internet connectivity at blazing speeds with very little deployment time—remains compelling. While conventional fiber-based data delivery rollouts often lead to disastrous delays and expenses in urban settings, where streets and buildings get inconveniently in the way and expenses can run as high as $200,00 per square mile, broadband wireless systems can essentially be set up and turned on in a matter of a few days. And the new generation of the technology has addressed many of the problems faced by earlier generations... or so Fotheringham and other broadband wireless stalwarts hope.

His new company? Adaptix out of Bothell, Washington and funded to the tune of some $10 million. The company has leveraged the intellectual property acquired from yet another failed broadband wireless firm, Broadstorm, to deliver a new solution that Fotheringham hopes will transcend previous market difficulties.

This technology portfolio is built around the central premise of the software-defined radio. Because hardware performance is software-controlled in this solution, providing on-the-fly manipulation of modulation/demodulation, signal generation, coding and link-layer protocols, software-defined radios offer extraordinary flexibility. Hardware-based radio systems, by comparison, are essentially what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

What's more, the nature of the software-defined radio is such that it may, in theory, permit Adaptix to go to market with a solution based on a standard that is, by conservative estimates, a year away or more from formal IEEE ratification.

802.16e, also known as the mobility-centric variation of WiMax, is that standard, and like many other such standards is hung up in committee as its nature and definition are determined by a Darwinian process of argument by competing factions and subsequent voting. One might imagine a vendor would be reluctant to commit to a released product based on a standard that doesn't exist, but Adaptix seems unworried. From its initial press release: "The ADAPTIX products and intellectual property support and complement the pending mobility version (802.16e) of the WiMax standard which is expected to be finalized in late 2005."

Support and complement are bold words in this context, since the IEEE has yet to provide anything Adaptix might support and/or complement. It would appear that Fotheringham and company are confident not in the possibility that the IEEE will eventually define the standard in such a way as to be compatible with their solution, but rather that their solution will, by its intrinsically flexible nature, encompass any possible standard.

Thus, the press release goes on to say:

"The system is software driven, providing high modularity and granular control over the critical operational aspects in wireless communications delivery. The company's products are engineered to fit seamlessly into existing wireless infrastructure base stations and network architectures."

And into which markets does Adaptix hope to deliver this solution? North America has certainly been openly skeptical of broadband wireless technologies in general, and as a result, many such firms have headed to the kinder, gentler markets overseas.

Adaptix would appear to be no exception. Fotheringham says, "Korea will lead the world with implementation of the 802.16(e)-based "WiBro" standard at 2.3 GHz. Adaptix has also gained initial footholds in the Australian and Chinese market for wireless ISP and CLEC service companies."

That Australia is interested should come as no surprise to those familiar with the history of its software-defined radio's original developer, Broadstorm. Before its filing for Chapter 11, Broadstorm had a major customer in Australian firm Phonevision, which in the second half of 2004 purported to be using it to "offer reliable, highly-competitive, genuine broadband access to over 32,000 homes and businesses."

Said David Blanks, CEO of Phonevision: "As well as providing superior data rates and carrier grade guarantees, the technology overcomes known deficiencies of xDSL services (distance from exchange, pair-gain and RIM incompatibility, not available on all exchanges) and provides a non-line of sight wireless service with a range of 10km radius from wherever the base station is located. Additional base stations can be added to give 'cellular' type expansion coverage."

Such performance is made possible by the Broadstorm/Adaptix specifications, which allow for the technology to operate in both licensed and unlicensed spectrum ranging from 700 MHz to 6 GHz, and over ranges as great as 30 Km in rural areas or 1-4 Km in more densely-populated urban markets, where demand is exponentially greater and far more base stations are required to handle the load.

Urban markets routinely pose a second challenge to broadband wireless technology, of course: line-of-sight blockage. Because most broadband wireless systems operate in spectrum vulnerable to interference from large metal objects such as skyscrapers, many providers have relied on a technology known as orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) to circumvent line-of-sight issues.

Adaptix has its own variation on OFDM, FastSwitching-OFDMA, which the company considers revolutionary for its field. The company claims that the release version will be "a system agile enough to overcome rapidly changing radio frequency fades, nulls, and interference everywhere within the coverage footprint of the network."

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