A Toronto manufacturer of high-speed wireless equipment is about to revamp its channel program and add partners as a prelude to what it hopes will be a successful debut for an emerging technology.

Redline Communications, whose base stations and desktop transmitters use the recently-finalized

WiMax broadband standard, will reveal details of the new program to partners next month, the company told CDN

.

Perhaps not coincidentally, next month technicians will begin readying a lab in Spain for WiMax’s final test, certifying the interoperability of fixed equipment. Intel, which earlier this year revealed a WiMax chipset for such gear, said a version for laptops could be ready in 2007.

Until now WiMax manufacturers have been making and selling pre-standard gear that hasn’t been certified to work together. Once interoperability is assured, manufacturers believe, customers will be more willing to buy.

WiMax, short for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, is a technology that promises high-speed connections of typically up to 9 km. (six miles), compared to 91 metres (300 ft.) for WiFi.

Louis Lambert, Redline’s vice-president of worldwide channels, said the company wants to be ready when the lab issues certifications, likely in December, not only to sell equipment but also to have a modern channel program running.

It will be the first revision of Redline’s program since the company began selling proprietary gear three and a half years ago, he said. Since then it moved to the standards-based WiMax technology (also known as IEEE 802.16).

The changes, which Lambert wouldn’t detail, will include more sales enablement tools such as scripts for VARs who want to host seminars for customers, and more partner training. “They’ve delivered,” Lambert said of the certified partners, of which there are about nine in Canada. “Now we’re going to give them more value without changing the discount structure.”

The new channel structure “is also our way to get prepared for the next generation of VAR partner,” he said. It may sound odd, but he’s looking for communications resellers who don’t have wireless experience. Often the lack of a link to a T1 Internet connection is an obstacle to sales by resellers of everything from PBXs to servers, Lambert explained. WiMax can be used to bridge that gap in certain areas where telco or cable service providers can’t or don’t want to provide fixed broadband – for example, between buildings or in rural areas.

In that sense “we’re the pipe enabler,” said Lambert.

Ultimately he’d like to have no more than 15 certified partners in this country, spread across geographies. Some would also specialize in verticals such as government and voice over IP.

He wants to get Redline’s channel program in order now to solidify VAR loyalty because he figures in a year most vendors’ WiMax gear will look similar to customers. Integrators and solution providers who are treated well will favour his company, he hopes.

Unlike some competitors, he said, Redline sells only through the channel. Its sales force exists to generate demand and refer prospects to VARs.

Industry analysts have differing views on WiMax’s future. The fixed wireless opportunity is there, says Strategy Analytics, a Massachusetts-based research and consulting firm. It estimates that by 2009 more than 20 million subscriber terminals and base stations will be sold annually. Some of that demand, which it calls “modest but healthy,” will be from developing nations eager for high-speed connectivity.

The case for mobile WiMax is less solid so far, it adds, because of major concerns over battery life, undefined specifications, and competition with 3G and 4G networks.

Iain Grant, managing director of the SeaBoard Group, a Montreal communications consultancy, noted that some companies are already quietly using WiMax, including installations in communities in the far north.

At the same time, he added, an Ottawa company is working on enhanced WiFi. “WiMax will not be the only radio technology out there offering the equivalent of high-speed Internet,” he said. “If the WiMax people don’t get their act together they might end up with a well-defined Betamax.”

But VARs deciding on a wireless technology shouldn’t rush into it, he said. Instead they should take some courses, buy some inexpensive gear and experiment. “Start getting smart about the dynamics of radio. Over the next 18 months there are going to be products coming down the pipe where that homework’s going to pay off as you decide to bring your company into it.

“I don’t think we can say which standard’s going to survive (but) the various radio propagation techniques that you pick up by having your ‘skunk works’ will pay off in spades.”

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