Intel`s WiMAX pilot a huge success

Johannesburg, 18 Jun 2004
Read time 6min 50sec

The city of Warner Robins, Georgia, isn`t well known. Located about 120 miles south of Atlanta, the city is home to Robins Air Force Base, a few defence firms, and some aerospace contractors. The locale has little in the way of history or architecture to commend it. It`s simply not famous for anything. At least not yet.

Intel and partnering companies recently conducted a successful trial of pre-standard WiMAX wireless broadband technology in Warner Robins and the surrounding county of Houston.

Technicians from Intel, Siemens Business Services and Alvarion revelled in the results.

"We blanketed half the county - over 200 square miles - with broadband wireless signal broadcast from a single base station on a communications tower," says Paul Butcher, Intel marketing manager for state and local government affairs.

"The results of the test were a great success. The throughput was phenomenal. At a distance of more than 12 1/2 miles we received a strong signal of over 6Mbps - roughly the equivalent of four or five T1 connections or 20 digital subscriber line (DSL) connections," explains Butcher.

In total, the team tested and received broadband signal at five locations throughout the county.

Butcher says Intel hopes the public-private cooperation in Houston County will serve as a model for other cities and counties considering wireless technology.

Intel`s partner, Siemens Business Services, is conducting a feasibility study and creating a business model for broadband wireless service in Houston County. The report is due out this week and should help local governments map out a plan to attract a private venture to offer the service.

Greg Richardson, national mobility practice director for Siemens Business Services, is producing the report. He says the cost estimates for WiMAX are compelling. Richardson believes the technology will help dramatically reduce the cost of wireless equipment. He estimates that the pilot gear the team used to beam wireless broadband over 200 square miles cost just under $20 000. To get the same throughput with wired technology, a company would have to shell out many millions of dollars.

Second time`s a charm

By contrast, in the late 1990s several large communications companies bankrolled massive wireless broadband networks, only to end in financial ruin. Non-standard equipment from different vendors kept costs high and hindered growth. Because WiMAX equipment is based on industry standards and is cheaper, Intel is betting wireless broadband will succeed this time around, especially in remote areas not served by DSL or cable. Intel has previously announced that it will manufacture WiMAX silicon, although the technology isn`t expected to be available broadly until 2006.

In the Houston County pilot, technicians extended an aerial bucket from a truck boom to sample the signal at each of the five locations. Perched inside the bucket, an Alvarion technician caught broadband wireless signal with a small, rectangular antenna attached to a pole. He surfed the Internet, watched streaming video, and trumpeted the throughput results to a jubilant crew on the ground.

The technology wowed the technicians.

Soon WiMAX technology will wow the world as well and little-known Warner Robins may have the distinction of being the world`s first WiMAX hot zone and a model for other communities.

Wireless to the MAX

Like a hotspot, a hot zone provides broadband wireless, but on a much larger scale. In the future you will be able to avoid the hassle of hopping from one hotspot to another. WiMAX base stations will eventually beam signal to an entire metropolitan area, providing true wireless mobility to every nook and cranny.

Intel Centrino mobile technology has helped make WiFi popular. Last year, WiFi hardware revenue reached $1.7 billion worldwide, up from $700 million the previous year, according to estimates from research firm In-Stat/MDR.

From homes to offices, and cafes to airport lounges, WiFi hotspots have created a revenue surge for mobile computing devices. But WiFi does have some limitations.

WiFi is limited in range to about 300 feet indoors. WiFi doesn`t handle longer distances unless component suppliers use a modified media access control (MAC) to craft a non-standard solution. While some companies have done this to enable greater distances, WiFi is simply not designed for the outdoors. For one thing, the technology is ultimately hindered by an inability to pass through obstructions. Although some cities have configured overlapping hotspots to create wireless clouds that cover several city blocks, WiFi is specifically designed for indoor local area networks.

On the other hand, WiMAX is designed from the ground up for the outdoor metropolitan area network (MAN). In the near future, WiMAX base stations will beam high-speed Internet connections to homes and businesses in a radius of up 30 miles unobstructed by trees, buildings, or topography.

In addition to its greater range, WiMAX boasts faster bit rates outdoors - providing shared data rates up to 70Mbps, or enough bandwidth to simultaneously support more than 60 businesses with T1-style connectivity and hundreds of homes with DSL-speed connectivity using a single sector of a base station.

Beyond distance and speed, the technologies differ in their use of spectrum as well. WiFi operates only in unlicensed spectrum. WiMAX operates in both licensed and licensed-exempt bands.

This is important to tier-1 telecommunications companies (telcos) that are eager to use WiMAX, but would never use unlicensed spectrum for long distances on the backhaul. To do so would forfeit the greater wattage and safety of operating in spectrum protected from interference. WiMAX will enable telcos to provide a wireless connection from homes and businesses all the way to a core network.

Telcos have been eagerly looking for ways to further extend the range of their broadband data and voice services, but have been wary of fixed-wireless services because of a lack of defined standards. The features and capabilities of 802.16 have helped Intel to re-engage the interest of many large service providers.

Two additional important features found in 802.16 but not in 802.11 are scalability and quality of service (QoS). These features are important for carriers and service providers that want to offer differentiated service levels to their customers - T1-type service for business and DSL-type service for residential. QoS also enables voice and video capabilities.

Catching the wireless religion

Matt Stone is a councilman for the city of Warner Robins. He`s also chairman and co-founder of the Houston County wireless committee, a group made up of business and community leaders that`s been working with Intel and other companies since 2003 to bring in new high-speed wireless Internet access to blanket all of Houston County.

Stone helped form the committee about a year ago following a presentation delivered by Terry Smithson, Intel`s education marketing manager for the Americas region. On a visit to Warner Robins, Smithson gave a presentation in which he described Intel`s wireless vision for schools and communities. Stone sat in the audience, hanging on Smithson`s every word.

"By the time I left that meeting, I`d caught the wireless religion," says 23-year-old Stone. Smithson helped Stone establish the Houston County wireless committee with the goal of bringing wireless broadband access to the approximately 400-square-mile county. The committee is keen on using WiMAX technology to create what participants believe will be the world`s first countywide hot zone.

If anything can put Warner Robins on the map, this is it.

Editorial contacts
A-Plus Communications Yvette van Rooyen (011) 789 9795
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