Cisco CTO challenges WiMax

Cisco Systems CTO Charles Giancarlo has announced that his company will not be backing WiMax (IEEE 802.16) technology. The announcement came during his brief keynote address at the Next Generation Networks conference in Boston, where Giancarlo asserted that Cisco will only be “providing the backbone infrastructure that may be behind any WiMax deployment. Cisco has not invested in WiMax. DSL and cable are already there, and they are much more deterministic.”

WiMAX is a third-generation wireless technology that provides high-throughput broadband connections over long distances. Wi-Fi and WiMAX are actually complementary technologies, according to Intel, as WiMAX is a ‘last mile’ technology – it connects businesses and homes to the high-speed Internet. Wi-Fi provides the wireless LAN connectivity within a building or a home. The two technologies have been built as close cousins, and should work together to provide the best connection for the users needs. The technology may well find its way into airport hotspots, for instance, but it’s unlikely service providers will invest in building two parallel wireless broadband networks.

An implementation of the IEEE 802.16 standard, WiMAX provides shared network connectivity at speeds of up to 75MB/s and as far as 30 miles, which should be enough bandwidth to simultaneously support more than 60 businesses with T1-type connectivity and hundreds of homes at DSL-type connectivity. However, on the average a WiMAX base-station installation will likely cover between three to five miles, so home networking is not the compelling application for WiMax. Today, last mile connections are typically made through cable, DSL (digital subscriber line), fibre optic connections and even standard phone lines. The ability to provide these connections wirelessly, without laying wire or cable in the ground, promises to greatly lower the cost to provide these services.

A further benefit of the WiMAX standard is that it relies mainly on 2GHz to 11GHz bands as opposed to the ‘overcrowded’ 2.4GHz band used by WiFi. The specifications of WiMAX avoided many of the mistakes that went into the WiFi standard, allowing longer reach, Non Line Of Sight (NLOS), greater bandwith, and better encryption. However, the 30 mile radius should be taken with a grain of salt, as it would most probably only apply to a true line of sight point-to-point connection under ideal atmospheric circumstances.

Giancarlo reminded listeners at his speech that many wireless technologies have come and gone over the years without finding success. “This is what went wrong with MMDS (multichannel multipoint distribution system) and LMDS (local multipoint distribution system). The economics became very bad very quickly.”

However, this hasn’t stopped Telabria, who has already announced plans to build the first WiMAX network in the United Kingdom. The network, which is now under construction, will deliver high-speed wireless broadband services to residential, business and enterprise customers in the South East of England, and provide backhaul for Telabria’s growing installed base of WiFi hotspots in the region. The service will commence trials in January, with a commercial launch by mid 2005. “We’re extremely excited about the network we’re building,” said Jim Baker, Telabria founder and Chief Executive Officer, speaking at the WiMAX World Conference in Boston. “WiMAX is a revolutionary standard which, over the next few years, will fundamentally change the structure of broadband networks”.