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SuperBowl of Wireless: WiMAX vs. Wi-Fi Why Not Both?

- February 4, 2007 - 0 Comments

It’s Sunday morning and most my household is quiet, clinging tightly to the last drops of sleepy refreshment from the Sandman, the bringer of dreams and rest. For many sports fans, today is the big day where the pageantry, where the competition, achievement and hype play onto the world stage of media: the Superbowl. It’s not called the national championship. It’s not called the world championship. It’s the SUPERbowl, invoking images of cartooned, masked superheroes battling for the forces of good and evil.Clearly Football’s Superbowl is one of the pinnacles of competitive sports, but at the end of the day, one team will win and one will lose (kind of, as both teams make a lot of money along the way). This year’s bout is a conundrum, as the teams are relatively evenly matched. The Cinderella Bears -how is that for twisting a few fairy tales -are led by a defense second to none and the Indianapolis Colts are led by a potential Hall of Fame Quarterback’s offense.It’s a bit like the discussion about Wi-Fi and WiMAX.Wi-Fi is the Chicago BearsWi-Fi is rapidly becoming the Ethernet of wireless technologies, where are an open standard is driving innovation across the entire value chain as it becomes faster (.11n), more robust (MIMO), more secure (.11i, w). This year the industry is expected to ship as many chips in devices as it did over the past several years combined. The relatively cost advantages of a shared connection have driven the hospitality and entertainment industry to start to offer it like a utility to their guests. Last week, I sat down with the CIO of an international movie theater chain that was preparing to roll it out so people could be connected in the common areas of the theater to enhance the entertainment value of their venues (I thought the movies and the popcorn were the experience!). Enterprises are rolling out secure access so contractors, customers and suppliers can share their networks. With this growing pervasiveness, Wi-Fi has a killer defense -try to take it out -and a pretty good offense as well.WiMAX is the Indianapolis ColtsAfter several years of hype and a past 18 months of pilots, WiMAX is moving closer to being a tremendously powerful wireless technology in a lot of areas. Not likely going replace cellular technology any time soon as a primary air interface for telephony and mobile data in developed markets and nations, WiMAX represents a potential disruptive force in the emerging world, where the wiring, well, just does not exist. In developed markets like Europe, which are wired/unwired through the mobile telephony company’s hundreds of billions of investment in spectrum, equipment and pull-through of corresponding handsets, the marginal costs of competing with a brand new spectrum technology are pretty low. The same is true with fixed line DSL, Cable and FTTH technologies. It’s hard to compete with installed and depreciated plant.However, in emerging markets like India, China and the Middle East, where wired broadband connections are not going to come anytime soon, the innovation and investment in WiMAX are starting to look pretty attractive. The governments and companies that operate in the world where broadband does not exist clearly understand the economic levers WiMAX technology will bring to a region’s development socially and economically. On those playing fields, WiMAX has a strong passing game, able to make up some broadband yardage in a hurry.Superbowls, however, are not won either singularly by offenses or defenses alone. It takes a bit of both. Hence I see these two technologies playing a critical role working together: think of it as a wireless ProBowl (all-star) team. Today we are combining WiMAX as a backhaul technology for Wi-Fi Mesh. In other parts of the world, WiMAX looks to be the outdoor provider of choice and be distributed in-building by Wi-Fi. Both support data well, today, are becoming optimized for voice, and some day might be able to support robust, pervasive video, although the latter is tough to predict.If you are a fan of football history, you know the Superbowl is the breeding ground of upsets. The one burned into my psyche as a youth was the 1968 Superbowl where”Broadway Joe” Namath took the New York Jets to a surprise victory over the Baltimore Colts (the predecessor of today’s Indianapolis team). And we must also remember there is a third team on the ground: today’s 2G/3G cellular industry, which is moving to an IPRAN and its own designs on winning the Superbowl of wireless. Will it partner with or co-opt Wi-Fi/WiMAX s as it evolves? Well, that’s what makes today’s game so much fun.Go wireless!

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