A WiMAX Primer

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WiMAX Characteristics
WiMAX offers maximum data transfer rates of 50Mbps, offering sustained user data rates of 0.5-2Mbps, allowing for simultaneous transfer of data (including high definition imagery), voice over IP (VoIP), and streaming video. This technology also provides effective services at distances 3-5 miles for mobile users (without a direct line of sight). A distance of 20 miles or more is expected for line of sight connections.

Data transmission speed is subject to many factors including bandwidth, number of other users, distance from base station, and network configuration. The WiMAX Forum suggests "working" peak data rates of up to 15Mbps in 5 MHz are achievable.

Frequency Considerations
Much debate is warranted on how governments allocate "airwaves" or frequency spectrum, and unfortunately, the topic is beyond the scope of this article, but the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has identified the 2.3, 2.5, and 3.5 GHz bands for international broadband wireless access. Additionally, the 5.8 GHz band is also often considered for WiMAX use, but normally on an unlicensed basis, which often translates into interference from other devices. Nevertheless, since 70% of the globally issued WiMAX licenses are for 3.5 MHz spectrum, and the United States is backing 2.5 MHz services, these bands are likely to see the greatest initial benefits in scale.

WiMAX Positioning
In the United States, WiMAX is likely to enjoy greater frequency utilization and lower royalty overheads as compared to 3G networks. As a result, WiMAX is able to offer less expensive deployments and lower voice and data prices for the consumer. In short, WiMAX is likely to provide elements of converged networks (voice, data, IPTV) while bridging the gap between broadband wired networks (fiber, cable, DSL) and costly 3G networks (requiring more network elements). In the United States, WiMAX services will compete most directly with 3G services due to its favorable price-performance ratio, and with DSL or cable networks where the wired infrastructure is limited due to terrain (rural or isolated areas).

Imagine everyone has an unlimited data package on their PDA and the speed is limited to 512Kbps to 1.5Mbps. Some users pay per megabyte and others will pay a flat fee. What applications may develop and how might they impact streaming media? The list below is intended to offer some possibilities. Many of these applications were used for military purposes as well as some social purposes in Iraq. Add some imagination and you’ll see that the possibilities are endless.

Initially, fixed voice over IP (VoIP) services are likely to be available in urban areas. WiMAX’s ability to accomplish handoff and low latency, as well as guarantee service quality via traffic prioritization suggests it meets all the requirements for a wireless voice network. Versatile handsets are likely to route traffic over WiFi, WiMAX, or cellular networks based on availability.

This also means that WiMAX can be used to stream radio or directions to a device enabled with Mobile WiMAX.

WiMAX lends itself well to the delivery of multimedia content. Video clips can be delivered to mobile handsets, and files can be exchanged in mobile peer-to-peer forums.

Video Teleconferencing
Video teleconferencing and "personal broadcasting" are now a possibility with broadband point-to-point connections that bypass internet congestion.

Visual displays (movie trailers or product demonstrations) can be modified in real time citywide to capture the imagination of an audience of one or one hundred viewers.

Broadband upload capability now means that users can contribute to communities in new ways using video, photography, and voice. Devices such as phones, cameras, and PDAs can share content in real time.

Social Networking
By combining GPS and WiMAX devices, new applications can be developed to derive value from geographical marketing, predictable behaviors, and community interests.

Public Works
Aerial video surveillance is now a reality as public officials can monitor events using unmanned airplanes and a network of wireless video cameras delivering real-time video to a control station several miles away.

Sensor Networks
A sensor network is a network of devices (with built-in detection tools) that can exchange information, and gain situational awareness of other nodes in the network in order to act intelligently and collaboratively. Sensor networks offer valuable transportation, marketing, and security applications.

Event-Based Media
New media platforms can be used to capture and share community broadcast content for a given event: sporting event, concert, graduation, etc.

Like many new technologies, WiMAX has attracted some hype within the press. Some critics may say that the technology is still unproven on a wide scale, but the trends toward commercializing the technology—global adoption, low hardware prices, large corporate backing and favorable price-performance ratio—are all evident. This technology deserves experimentation and I believe it will be widely adopted where it is needed most—in developing economies lacking a reliable copper infrastructure.

Having installed many broadband wireless technologies in areas without existing infrastructure, I can tell you that WiMAX works and that many innovative voice, data, and video applications will be developed for this platform. They will serve social purposes as well as entertainment purposes. Whether WiMAX will become a commercial reality in the United States over the coming years is hard to say, but I can say with confidence that if it establishes itself anywhere in the world, it will definitely have a direct impact on streaming media and the development of applications that corporations, communities, and individuals will use to deliver information, entertainment, and advertising in the future.

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