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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A pleasing symmetry with WiMAX?

OK, I'll confess.... I've been pretty bored with the whole fixed-WiMAX thing up until now. Yet another wireless technology designed for those people who can't get normal broadband, because they choose to live somewhere in the sticks. Even back in Jan 2005, coverage was above 90% in urban areas across Europe, and 62% in rural areas across the whole of the EU. Taken from a population standpoint, it's probably now above 90% in aggregate.

So, maybe 5-10% is still a decent target market, and certainly worthy of some form of coverage, but to my mind (as a Londoner born & bred in Zone 1), a disproportionate amount of attention gets grabbed by this very vocal minority and their suppliers.

Unsurprisingly therefore, I haven't written much about rural broadband, the availability of DSL, and the possibility of using WiMAX / satellite / legacy fixed wireless to fix the problem. I've glibly assumed that WiMAX has precious little relevance in urban areas, especially given indoor coverage problems at 3.5GHz or 5.8GHz.

So I was fairly skeptical when I went to visit a new London startup called Urban WiMAX yesterday. But I have to say the company may well actually have a point. Not for competing with plain old ADSL, but for offering symmetrical services. Again, I have a confession - I've glossed over the benefits of symmetry in connectivity. I still think I'm right when concerned with residential subscribers - asymmetry is right, because of things like IPTV and content downloads.

But small/medium businesses - the target market here - frequently do need upstream capacity. To send people like me horribly large PowerPoint files, for example, or images to their advertising agency. Or to do network backups. Or possibly for large amounts of outbound VoIP with QoS. And not everyone can get a fibre installed in the building - but unlike residential customers, they can justify the costs of someone to bolt a small antenna to the roof, so existing frequencies like 5.8GHz are OK. Maybe WiMAX does have a point in cities after all?

Furthermore, the company appears to have some pretty clever network planning software, to help it provide a very granular estimate of which buildings can get either direct or indirect line-of-sight to the transmitter.

I still don't think fixed WiMAX is going to change the world, and in my view the jury is still out on the practicalities of mobile WiMAX as well (it's very dependent on spectrum availability), but this is certainly another step forward.

3 comments:

Aaron Keogh said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Given that 60-80% of traffic on the internet is peer to peer, for file sharing, realtime voice, video, gaming. I am a little suprised about your views on the residential market not needing symetric broadband.
John

Dean Bubley said...

I'm never too sure about the 60-80% figures - I sometimes see things like that too, but it's unclear exactly what it means. 60-80% of access traffic? Backbone traffic? Between where & where?

I don't think symmetry is essential. Maybe a bit more symmetrical than we have at the moment, but I still think that fundamentally a typical residential user will always have more data coming into the house than going out.