Interop vendors hold high hopes for Wi-Max potential

LAS VEGAS — The emergence of wireless standards such as Wi-Max will give a billion workers high-speed access from mobile devices over the next few years, an Intel Corp. executive said Tuesday.

During a keynote presentation at the Interop

conference and expo (formerly called Networld + Interop), Sean Maloney, executive vice-president and general manager of Intel’s mobility group, said Wi-Max, a yet-to-be ratified wireless protocol, will help make businesses more efficient because most employees who work in the field, rather than in an office, do not have access to their networks.

He said IT has helped make businesses more efficient, but now that most knowledge workers have desktop PCs and network access, “the question is, can we get productivity improvements in the mobile area to match the productivity improvements we got in the last 10 years in IT?”

Quoting from Aberdeen Research surveys, Maloney said people who work in manufacturing plants, stock exchanges and other environments “are very, very unconnected” because only eight per cent of them have network access.

But technologies like Wi-Fi, Wi-Max and third-generation (3G) wireless will help businesses connect these mobile field workers, and this “will be part of the next surge in productivity through IT.”

During his presentation, Maloney demonstrated a video conference over a Wi-Max network in the Las Vegas area and presented several mobile devices, including cell phones, handheld devices and notebooks.

“With this, there will be a billion or so knowledge workers over the next few years who will essentially be able to take their desktops with them,” he said.

Wi-Max, the common name for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE)’s 802.16 standards, is designed to give wireless access at speeds up up to 70 Mbps at distances of up to 50 km without requiring line of sight. It is expected to be ratified later this year.

Wi-Max will give small businesses, homes and branch offices high-speed access at a much lower cost than fibre optic cabling, said Hossein Eslambolchi, president of AT&T Corp.’s global networking technology services division.

During a keynote address at Interop, Eslambolchi Wi-Max will deliver higher speeds than T1 services, and unlike GSM, which competes with CDMA-based technologies, Wi-Max will be a standard.

“I believe 802.16 with Wi-Max will be the first global standard in that space,” he said, adding AT&T plans to offer Wi-Max as an access technology next year.

“If you go for small and medium sized businesses, Wi-Max would be perfect to use in those locations,” Eslambolchi said. “Wireless-based services is where innovation starts, at the edge of the network.”

Telecommunications carriers will start to use wireless technologies such as Wi-Max, to offer bundled voice and data services, said Ben Guderian, director of market strategy and industry relations for SpectraLink Corp.

During an Interop panel discussion, titled “VoFi: Revolution in the Making,” Guderian said voice over Wi-Fi is becoming more popular in health and retail, because it lets workers carry their IP phones with them.

But he warned a Wi-Fi network that is suitable for data will not necessarily be suitable for voice, and IT managers who want to allow voice over Wi-Fi need to make sure they install access points that will give coverage to the entire premises.

”Cover everything,” Guderian said. “Voice users are going to walk around and find every nook and crannie that you don’t have covered” and as a result, their calls will be dropped.

A Canadian university that plans to offer voice over Wi-Fi will be using a network testing product unveiled at Interop to conduct a site survey.

At Interop, Helium Networks of Pittsburgh introduced Wireless Recon, which is designed to let IT workers draw a map of their Wi-Fi networks’ coverage.

Wireless Recon is comprised of the SiteScout hardware a wheeled cart to which IT workers can attach a notebook with Wi-Fi card. The cart is designed to plot distance and direction, so when the workers roll it through a building, it will detect wireless access points and plot the signal strength and interference information on to a map using Helium’s SiteSense software.

The University of Sherbrooke plans to use Wireless Recon to test its Wi-Fi network, said Pascal Beauregard, the university’s IT and network specialist.

In an interview last week, Beauregard said the university already has 55 Wi-Fi access points and plans to conduct user trials of voice over IP on that network.

Beauregard said he plans to use Wireless Recon to test both for coverage and for quality of service.

Interop continues until Friday.

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