WiMAX Internet Access, Disaster Recovery

Annabel Dodd Disasters such as hurricanes Rita, Wilma and Katrina where many companies lost their Internet access have sparked interest in disaster recovery. In addition, shrinking numbers of carriers due to the mergers such as AT&T and MCI with SBC and Verizon and bankruptcies of many small carriers have spurred interest in alternative sources for telecommunications services. WiMAX, short for worldwide interoperability for microwave is starting to fit the bill in both these ways. Current offerings are generally referred to as pre-WiMAX because equipment that meets the WiMAX 802.16 standards are not available. Different standards are intended for fixed and mobile wireless services.

Fixed wireless service
People can use fixed wireless service only within range of the building's local area network. An antenna of about 8 inches in diameter is connected to the outside of the building and the provider runs a cable from it to the customer's networking equipment. Fixed wireless is the type of service that is more generally available and is used for Internet access by business and commercial customers.

Mobile wireless service
In contrast, WiMAX mobile services operate on a portable basis anywhere within range of provider's towers. Customers have a modem with antenna in their laptop. Mobile WiMAX technology is seen as a complement or competitor to cellular and hot spot services. To date, no provider operates mobile WiMAX within Massachusetts.

Fixed wireless offerings
Business and commercial customers use fixed WiMAX primarily for Internet access, and back-up Internet access in the event that their primary line fails. If the fiber or copper to their Internet provider is cut or the service is lost for other reasons, they can use the wireless link. In the future, as WiMAX providers start offering voice as well as data, telephone service as well as data traffic will have an alternate route in disasters. In addition to using wireless in the event of an outage, some enterprise customers balance their Internet traffic between a landline provider's e.g. MCI T-1 and their wireless link on a daily basis. In addition, providers can increase access speeds via software giving customers the flexibility to easily increase or decrease speeds.

Lowering costs
Competitors to the incumbent telephone companies see wireless as a way to revitalize their offerings by offering services that do not require leasing last mile facilities from incumbents such as SBC. Lower deployment costs and increased competition will benefit customers by providing more choices, lower rates and innovative services.

Broadband wireless access providers
TowerStream is the largest fixed wireless provider in New England with service in greater Boston stretching between Framingham, Wilmington and Weymouth. Community WISP, Meganet and Pipeline Wireless are other wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. For a small fee, TowerStream provides failover service. If their primary tower fails, a back-up tower automatically provides service.

A note of caution – Interference
Pre-WiMAX services are offered over licensed and unlicensed portions of the airwaves (spectrum). The FCC awards licensed spectrum, for a fee, in chunks to qualified bidders. In contrast, any organization can use unlicensed spectrum as long as they follow FCC power and other guidelines. Thus, start-up costs are lower for carriers using unlicensed spectrum. However, heavy traffic from competing carriers using the same spectrum can cause interference and service interruptions. TowerStream, Pipeline Wrireless and Community WISP all use unlicensed spectrum for their Pre-WiMAX offerings.

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