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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Whatever happened to WiMAX for cellular backhaul?

At various points over the last couple of years, I've heard WiMAX advocates talk enthusiastically about the possibility of using their favourite technology as a cheap & effective way of improving mobile backhaul.

So what's happened? As far as I can see, the need for faster, cheaper, better (ideally non-line of sight) backhaul has grown tremendously. The demand certainly seems to be there.

And a never-ending stream of alternative approaches is appearing, from fibre & metro-ethernet connections, to various forms of multiplexing & compression, even industrial-grade DSL backhaul.

But speaking to one of the largest WiMAX equipment vendors last week, I got the distinct impression that this is one of the "use cases" that hasn't made it as far as the initial marketing pitch for the technology. I suspect this is partly down to the limitations of existing interfaces (and physical space) at cell sites. But it also seems to be a distinct aversion in many traditional mobile carriers to the idea of deploying another wireless network, especially just for "spot" solutions.


ItWasMyIdea said...

From what I hear Cingular is using unlicensed 3.5 for "spot" backhaul solutions until they get the telco to their towers. Then they rip them down afterwards.

Brough said...

Dean, I’ve seen quite a few radio access networks around the world as we (NMS Communications) sell RAN optimization gear (multiplexing and compression). The most likely opportunity for WiMAX is in new mobile network deployments (that can’t get or afford wired or fiber backhaul). Established networks with wireless backhaul use microwave gear (or satellite in remote parts of the world). Adding WiMAX adds management overhead, so there’s strong resistance to change. We’ve sold AccessGate to extend the life of existing microwave links, but we offset the added overhead of managing our gear with a wealth of traffic analysis capabilities operators can’t get from their existing radio vendors.
Yes, we will see WiMAX in the RAN eventually, but it will take a while and it will start with some greenfield networks.