WiMAX could have impact on WLANs, local access

The mobile version of Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) might eventually change the landscape of both fixed and mobile broadband networking.In the meantime, however, it poses a dilemma for network operators and more challenges for users. The WiMAX Forum, which promotes the global deployment of WiMAX, accepts this predicament by positioning the technology as both complementary to, and competitive with, existing and future broadband technologies.

WiMAX has the potential to provide IP-based broadband services that rival the mobility of cellular systems and the capacities of fixed systems. But will it be deployed widely enough before cellular systems (beyond third-generation) provide similar capabilities? Some WiMAX advocates suggest that WiMAX will be the fourth generation (4G) cellular technology, which is only speculation and does not address the question. It is likely that most network operators will hedge their bets by investing in both 3G and WiMAX to various extents, driven by the reality that the future of neither technology is clear. Collectively, the large network operators in the West could expect to control the destiny of WiMAX; however, such power might disappear if WiMAX is adopted in a major way by countries such as China and India. Developments outside North America and Europe could produce the ability to leapfrog the 3G+ development path. Alternatively, 3G+ and a new 4G technology might squeeze WiMAX out of the race.

This dilemma introduces more uncertainty for enterprises that are planning broadband- or wireless-related investments over the next few years. Just as you were preparing for dual mode cellular/Wi-Fi handsets, along comes the hint that you might want to wait for cellular/WiMAX handsets – or will that be tri-mode handsets that work on cellular, Wi-Fi and WiMAX networks? This, however, may not be your most immediate concern if, as expected, WiMAX is positioned initially as a broadband data service. Attention would then focus on its relationship with Wi-Fi. While many observers see a complementary relationship, there remains an uncomfortable sense of overlap. Will WiMAX impact your WLAN or local access plans? Will it involve one more expensive contract with a service provider? Why must you concern yourself with many types of mobility solutions?

How will wimax change the lan?

Perhaps it’s time for a shift in the way we are approaching enterprise communications. Let’s start with voice and the impact of mobility. The mobile telephone is gradually taking over the role of the fixed telephone. Why then are most enterprises following an implicit strategy of fixed/mobile co-existence or integration, instead of outright replacement? One alternative is to deploy enterprise-specific cellular services. While in most cases this would require some additional in-building equipment, it would be operationally seamless. If we add WiMAX or 3G+ to the mixture, then it’s only a matter of time before we ask the same question about data. Why should we continue to need LANs as we know them today? More generally, why should many, if not most, enterprises continue to need fixed capability, if mobile could provide both? One reason why we are not thinking seriously about such a future is that the industry players have been focused primarily on the consumer at the expense of the enterprise. Ring tones and video clips are more attractive than enterprise infrastructure. But, there might be a new opportunity for them in hosted services driven by mobility. With seamless mobility becoming central to the future of enterprise communications, service providers and equipment vendors need to change the game plan.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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