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Demystifying fixed wireless

A number of fixed wireless broadband services are emerging as low-cost connectivity options for businesses, and that's why many believe the market is likely to boom over the next five years. According to a report from Oyster Bay, N.Y.- based ABI Research, titled "Broadband Wireless: Last mile solutions," the market for both pre-standard fixed wireless and standardized WiMax (also known as 802.16) services is likely to grow from $450 million today to a $2.3 billion in 2009. sat down with Edward Rerisi, the author of the report and ABI's vice president of research, to learn more about how fixed wireless works and how the emergence of WiMax will affect enterprises.

Edward Rerisi
Edward Rerisi
What kind of throughput can users expect from fixed wireless services?
Consumers can expect between .5 Mbps and 1Mbps. Businesses can purchase anything from the equivalent of a T1 and up. Why would a business consider using this over a land line?
For starters, it is less expensive -- about half the price of a T1. Businesses can also get multiple speeds. It is not just a 1.5 Mbps line. Fixed wireless offers a range of speeds. If a company is doing a webcast, for example, and needs more bandwidth, it can scale the connection much more rapidly. Some vendors offer anywhere up to 10 Mbps. And it can be done quickly. It may take weeks to get an additional T1 line installed. Are there any drawbacks to fixed wireless?
It is not available everywhere, and that is a clear disadvantage. And if it is available in a particular area, a business still needs a clear line of sight to the base station. It is also slightly less reliable than a wired connection. The fixed wireless companies claim four nines of reliability. A T1 is reliable to five nines.
If the service is available in your area from a reputable operator, there is no reason to wait.
Edward Rerisi
ABI Research
Fixed wireless uses unlicensed spectrum. Is that a concern?
As the technology matures, there will be more interference in the unlicensed spectrum band. And we are unlikely to see operators get into the market if the unlicensed spectrum is too crowded. Most operators will likely use a combination of licensed and unlicensed spectrum for fixed wireless and WiMax. How does it compare to other wireless broadband technologies, such as 3G services?
Unlike 3G, WiMax is largely not a portable technology. There may be some nomadic applications as early as 2006, but not in the same form factor as a mobile handset. It really competes with landline connections. Will the technology affect Wi-Fi?
It will be a driver of Wi-Fi, not a competitor. WiMax will likely be used as a backhaul for hot spots. For example, you could have one WiMax base station at an airport, and dozens of hot spots that use it. What about security?
There are the same security concerns with WiMax that you would have with any other network. WiMax is more secure than Wi-Fi. The risk is similar to that of a cellular network. Are the major carriers likely to offer fixed wireless service?
We are seeing some carriers slowly getting into the market. Earthlink Inc. and Digitalpath Networks Inc. are both getting into it. They are interested because they don't have to rely on incumbent carriers for the last mile of connectivity. They can start offering data services -- and then voice and video -- without having to pay the incumbent phone company.
For more information

Be sure to check out this week's special report on fixed wireless.

Browse our Topics on WiMax.

Get expert Graham Robinson's help on wireless technology.

Does fixed wireless require any special infrastructure on the customer's end?
You need the subscriber unit that sends and receives the signal, which is usually provided by the carrier. That cost is bundled into the monthly charge. The beauty of WiMax standardization is that over time, you'll be able to buy that at Best Buy or Circuit City. How will the move to the 802.16 standard, the basis of WiMax, change the market?
It will definitely help it. Proprietary technology will be dominant over the next few years, but by 2009 I think that WiMax and proprietary technology will be about on par with each other -- each being about a $1 billion market. In just four or five years, WiMax will achieve the same market size that it took fixed wireless 10 to 15 years to attain. Is there any reason to wait for WiMax, or should businesses begin considering this now?
If the service is available in your area from a reputable operator, there is no reason to wait. Companies can save $500 a month over a T1 line. That savings far outweighs any equipment cost that might be incurred. We don't recommend that companies go with the small ISP that have 50 or 100 subscribers, but there are some companies, such as TowerStream Corp. and NextWeb Inc., that have a reasonable customer base.

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