WiMAX, Local Access Savior

A couple of months ago, I discussed the proliferation of Wi-Fi across the US and the world. A super technology to be sure but there’s a complimentary partner just waiting around the corner.

WiMAX has the range to provide the backhaul requirements for Wi-Fi, which has a much smaller footprint. However, I see a much bigger role for WiMax: local access. The coveted “last mile” wired network technology that the regional bell operating companies (RBOCs) have hoarded and capitalized on since the divestiture of AT&T in 1984.

Local Access Challenges

Local access to the long haul carriers such as AT&T, MCI, and Sprint has been a dilemma for these providers and end users since the divestiture. Although it takes only a couple of key strokes at an RBOC network operations center, or punching down a couple of cables on the frame at the network center, it still takes 30 to 45 business days to install a point-to-point frame relay or broadband circuit. Add to that the jaw-dropping price the RBOC charges for the access circuit, many times greater than the actual long haul transport from point A to point B.

Why? Here are a couple of reasons.

Bureaucracy, red tape, and rules of engagement between the long haul carriers and the RBOC are the biggest culprit. These machinations are complex and have established “intervals” for any order, be it a simple speed upgrade or a new circuit. Frankly, the paper pushers on both sides have absolutely no sense of urgency. In the end, if an established interval is 30 days, you can bet that it will take at least that much, more than likely stretching to 45 days.

Obsolete and erroneous plant engineering documentation and systems are equally to blame. Most of these systems are dependent upon databases, which have hooks into the POTS line inventory. And you guessed it; if a POTS line has not been installed at a location it is highly likely you will be told that the address simply doesn’t exist.

Can you believe that? You have a facility that the US Postal Service, city hall and cartographers are aware of and yet Ma Bell says it doesn’t exist. Well it happens on a daily basis and it is a nightmare getting the providers to adjust their records.

The RBOCS are not going to correct the problem. Why should they? These access circuits are cash cows, which bring in significant revenue despite the delivery issues customers face.

The Solution

Clearly the solution is to take the middlemen out of the equation. To date, that has been easier said than done because as a result of divestiture, the RBOCs monopolize the ownership and operation of the last mile cable infrastructure that connects the long haul company’s switching centers to residential and business facilities.

But there is a very bright light at the end of the tunnel.

WiMAX is here, albeit in the early stages. Simply speaking, WiMAX is a wireless technology that can transmit at broadband and T1 Speeds, is impervious to weather such as rain or fog, and can penetrate structural walls much like standard radio and TV broadcasts do today. Typically the range is 10 miles; however, depending on the density of receivers and the aggregate data transmission rate this could be extended up to 30 miles. This is a huge opportunity for AT&T, MCI, and Sprint to cut out the middleman and extend their networks to residences and business.

Consumer Friendly

Once the equipment is readily available, it is reasonable to expect one could visit their local consumer electronics center, procure a receiver device and then order service much like you do with cell phones today. Imagine that, Frame Relay or high speed broadband service which has the potential to be implemented in less than a week. I predict this will be the reality within the next two years and will be prevalent by the year 2009.

The Future

The technology has been a long time coming but advancements combined with international standards such as 802.11.16 has made it feasible. Add to this the slice of licensed spectrum that will become available in 2007 when the broadcasting companies have to give up these frequencies due to a FCC mandate to digitize TV transmissions. The decisive factor here will be for the FCC to enforce the mandate rather than succumbing to political pressures to extend the deadline.

There are already a few pioneers offering High Speed Broadband via WiMAX. One example is Tower Stream. The company currently offers up to 1000MB broadband service in seven major markets that include New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. AT&T has recently announced plans to test the waters in this market, and Bell South has deployed this technology in Athens GA, a university town just northeast of Atlanta.

I have heard the executives from AT&T, Sprint, and MCI lament about how local access has prevented them from being quick to market and competitive for both data and voice services. To a certain extent, I have sympathized with them. However, with the advent of WiMAX, my sympathies are quickly dissipating.

The solution is there now, all they need to do is to implement and market it wisely.

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