As equipment and component manufacturers announced products at the WiMAX World conference in Boston last month, some vendors predict mobile carriers will add WiMAX base stations to their GSM or CDMA infrastructure.

“We certainly see it becoming an option that overlays on the cellular network,” said Doug Cooper, country manager for Canada for Intel Corp., which has unveiled its NetStructure WiMAX Baseband Card for base stations and the WiMAX Connection 2250 dual-mode baseband processor.

At the same time, Nortel Networks Corp. announced its WiMAX-based fourth-generation (4G) wireless products, which include base station transceivers, access service network gateways and mobile subscriber stations scheduled to ship during the middle of 2007.

Nortel’s products, based on Multiple Input Multiple Output Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (MIMO OFDM) technology, meet the IEEE 802.16e specification, said Bruce Gustafson, Nortel’s WiMAX marketing director.

Although carriers will keep their second- and third-generation equipment for the foreseeable future, they will overlay WiMAX on to their networks so they can support lower-cost data services, with transfer rates to the order of one Megabit per second, Gustafson said.

“Picture a world where the broadband connection is the same, whether wired or wireless,” he added.

He said WiMAX is suited for isolated areas where DSL and cable are too expensive to roll out to every building, and in cities for mobile workers.

Cooper said municipal WiFi networks do not have the range needed by some road warriors.

“If you want to capture the mobile business user, someone who’s in a car between business meetings, you really need something like WiMAX.”

Vanco plc, a London-based bandwidth reseller,has inked a deal with Bell Canada to provide wide-area networking services for Canadian businesses.

Vanco, which does not own any telecom infrastructure, has relationships with 650 carriers, from which it buys services such as multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), private line and digital subscriber line. The service, dubbed NetDirect, can help companies with locations in different countries reduce network costs by 20 to 25 per cent, said Allen Timpany, Vanco’s chief executive officer.

Instead of going to different carriers and getting quotes and prices, multinational firms can go to Vanco directly, which will seek quotes on their behalf.

“You’re effectively joining a buying club,” Timpany said.

NetDirect is a portal that lets users sign up and enter information on each site, including the location, circuit type, bandwidth and class of service.

Vanco can take different classes of service from different carriers, and then match them up to provide a standard class of service. For example, he said, if one carrier has four classes but another has five classes, based on different criteria, Vanco engineers will then decide which classes from one carrier should be matched with which classes from the other. That way, the customer can run network traffic from one carrier network to another using a class of service defined by Vanco.

Bell Canada is Vanco’s only Canadian partner, and there are no plans to offer access to the infrastructure of other carriers, such as Telus, MCI Canada or Allstream, he added.

Timpany said Vanco has relationships with 25 MPLS providers worldwide.

Open source software such as Asterisk and SIPx is playing a growing role in telephony but there is still an element of “buyer beware” in the use of this type of technology, according to speakers at the recent Voice 2.0 conference in Ottawa.

Open source is an ideal way for companies to handle development projects that have to be done but don’t directly affect customer satisfaction, argued Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, an open source software community. “The whole idea behind open source is to go get the stuff that your customers don’t care about and get it for free,” he said.

That’s what Mark Spencer was doing when he decided to write Asterisk, because he didn’t want to pay for a private branch exchange (PBX) for his Linux support company. Asterisk may be a “media darling” now, but it’s not the only open-source software or even necessarily the best, noted Jim van Meggelen, president and chief technology officer of Core Telecom Innovations Inc., a Toronto-based telecom products and services provider. Van Meggelen said another product, SIPx, is more robust.

And while open source technology can help reduce costs, it doesn’t make telephony free and it offers no guarantee of quality. During the discussion, one audience member said he has had several clients adopt Asterisk and then get rid of it in a year or so because they found it did not scale well. Van Meggelen agreed.

“Asterisk is not designed to scale,” he said. “Asterisk was originally designed because somebody was too cheap to buy a telephone switch.”

At the same time, he said, “if you’re willing to sit down with it and learn it, you can do unbelievably complicated things with this system.”

It’s a question of buyer beware, Milinkovich said, adding the challenge with open-source software, and particularly early open-source software, is that you are responsible for making it work.

Wai Seto, senior technology expert at Nokia Corp., said anyone adopting open-source telephony needs to do some homework and if necessary take on the task of fixing problems and returning the improvements to the open-source community. “We don’t just pick it and start using it,” he said.

Nokia and Nortel Networks are working with open source software internally.

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