WiMAX a threat to telecom carriers, wireless user group speaker warns

WiMAX will expand wireless Internet service to homes and businesses, and provide metro area coverage for mobile workers, said Claudio Ricci, country manager for Wav Inc., at a Toronto Wireless User Group (TorWUG) meeting held in Mississauga, Ont. last month.Licensed WiMAX is being piloted this month; in Canada, it will use the 3.5 GHz frequency.
“Products will start to show up early next year,” said Ricci. “That technology will initially be used for point-to-point and point-to-multipoint connectivity.”
While mobile WiMAX standards have not yet been ratified, Intel has committed to building WiMAX chips when the mobile version is available — but this is still a couple of years away. The fixed wireless broadband market will initially drive WiMAX, said Ricci.
WiMAX will present telcos with a whole new set of competitors, including giant retailers and courier companies — there’s nothing stopping them from sticking a tower on their stores and offering services to their customers. “It could be interesting,” he said.
Voice over IP will drive demand further for Wi-Fi/WiMAX, and force the integration of cellular and Wi-Fi/WiMAX radios in mobile devices. This will also create opportunities for new service providers to host telephony servers, said Ricci, and drive down costs of telephony for business and home users.
RFID, or radio frequency identification, is another wireless technology making headlines, but cost is still an issue. RFID, which includes tags, readers, middleware and application software, can increase supply chain visibility, improve predictability and enhance real-time data access, said Andrew Mitchell, director of enterprise wireless solutions with Bell Canada. The application, however, will drive the cost.
“Do you want to write to it or just read it?” he said. “Slap and stick” tags will be cheaper than those designed to survive in hostile environments. Basic tags cost between 50-70 cents per tag, though that will eventually drop to pennies and dimes. Custom tags can cost a lot more.
One of Bell’s clients, for example, has designed tags to be used on fire-fighting equipment. These tags needed to be water-resistant and able to withstand high temperatures and high impact (if dropped from a helicopter). While more expensive than basic tags, the advantage is that a message can be sent from the wireless LAN to ask a tag where it is.
“Infrastructure is definitely an investment,” said Mitchell, although companies will likely already have a WLAN in place.
Wireless technology is also being used for field service automation to extend the enterprise to mobile workers. Sales reps can access customer records during a service call, for example, and track each step of the service process.
Why automate? Companies can reduce data entry by 80 per cent or more, said Sean McGuire, solutions sales consultant with Intermec Canada. They can also decrease staff required to maintain work levels, increase service lifecycle management and provide increased consistency across the organization.
“There’s a lot of options out there and they don’t work for everybody,” he said. And there’s a smattering of devices, operating systems, wireless technology enablers and wireless network providers to choose from, he added. “But the best wireless solution uses the network the least,” he said. “The telcos don’t like to hear that.”

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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