Sprint Nextel expects to deploy WiMax or other OFDM technology in the future, according to Peter Cannistra, director of strategy and planning at the company’s broadband group, but he says that’s because it agreed to do so to satisfy regulators’ concerns about Sprint’s recent acquisition of Nextel. It’s not clear how Sprint Nextel would use such a network or what services it would provide over it, Cannistra says.
SBC Laboratories vice president David Deas says local phone and cable providers are already exploring WiMax as a low-cost way to extend their residential broadband service to rural areas. Deas, however, questions the vision of a national WiMax network through which mobile users move. “802.16e will be third to market,” he notes.
One possibility, says Innovativ’s Ed Partenope, is that municipalities will deploy WiMax as an Internet utility service for residents in much the same way that cities once provided gas and electric service a century ago. He believes that cities, such as Philadelphia and San Francisco, now looking to build citywide Wi-Fi networks will eventually switch to WiMax.
Already, the District of Columbia has deployed an OFDM public-safety network to link mobile police, firefighters, hazardous-materials teams, and others. It successfully tested the network during the presidential network in January, says the District’s CTO, Suzanne Peck.
However the first WiMax networks are deployed, enterprises should not expect to manage their own WiMax zones. Although the standard does permit deployment over public spectrum, that spectrum is shared by Wi-Fi and many other devices, so interference and other issues will likely scuttle its use, says Ovum’s Entner. Companies with large campuses may be able to manage spectrum use or buy the licensed spectrum they need. Otherwise, says Nortel’s Whitton, “I don’t see it as an enterprise technology.”
4G and beyond
Sprint Nextel’s Cannistra sees OFDM technologies succeeding 3G in a decade or so, because their more efficient spectrum usage means the cost per megabyte is lower. But for now, 3G makes more sense for the carriers because it uses existing hardware and its performance matches that of current OFDM technologies. As the 3G deployment costs are worked off and OFDM performance continues to improve, economics will justify a switch, Cannistra says.
SBC’s Deas agrees, but with even more reservation. Whatever happens with WiMax, he says, carriers expect their 3G services to be around for at least a decade. They also expect to improve the throughput of those networks as demand increases, by adding additional radios and upgrading the backbone infrastructure. As 3G networks reach their peak throughput, Deas and Ovum’s Entner both expect carriers to use some form of OFDM -- no doubt labeled “4G” -- as the replacement. That OFDM-based 4G network might be based on WiMax, UMTS-TDD, Flarion, or some variation not yet developed. Regardless, IT should expect their mobile users to depend on 3G-based networks for quite some time.
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