At last – a real alternative to 3G

Is WiMax a classic disruptive technology? And if so, how might this affect organisations’ plans for mobile applications?

Those two questions are suddenly among the high-tech field’s most compelling issues. When WiMax first came to light last year, many observers paid it little attention. A number of technology companies, including Fujitsu and Intel, said they were exploring the concept, which acts like a souped-up version of WiFi that could transmit data at speeds of up to 70 Mbit/s from a single base station over a radius of 30 miles.

But that news was met with scepticism. First, it sounded a little too good to be true. Observers also wearily recalled other apparent ‘breakthroughs’ in wireless broadband technology that failed to meet expectations.

However, one year on, the buzz surrounding WiMax has been cranked up. Advocates of WiMax say the technology is maturing faster than expected with the first networks expected in 2005. Intel, for one, says it will begin shipping WiMax chips later this year, and several PC manufacturers hope to be selling access cards in 2005.

If the hype is to be believed, there are a number of enticing possibilities for businesses. Ubiquitous high-speed data is bound to accelerate the rollout of data applications to mobile workers. This prospect, however fanciful, might even persuade some CIOs to think again about investing in a 3G-based service.

WiMax technology might also help speed up the provisioning of high-speed connections. It can take months for a telecoms operator to provision a standard T1 line if the service is not currently available in the organisation’s building. But a WiMax connection could potentially be up-and-running in days, at a fraction of the cost.

As always, there are some significant obstacles to overcome, and no one should be surprised if a WiMax backlash kicks in as early products ship. Security will doubtless prove a big problem, as will issue around robustness and reliability. Then there are the matters of tariffs, service plans and roaming agreements. Intel says that Internet service providers from six countries, including the UK, are looking at WiMax.

But most businesses will probably still choose to press ahead with existing mobile plans, while keeping an eye on how WiMax fares in the next six months or so.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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