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The May 14, 2003 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
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Broadband Wireless World - The "Big Boys" Have Arrived

Attending a conference for the first time, we try to form a composite of the show's target industry or group. Aside from the obvious connection that the attendees were interested in wireless broadband technologies and services, those we met at last month's Broadband Wireless World represented tremendous diversity, including:

  • Companies large (Verizon and Intel) and small
  • Using licensed and unlicensed spectrum
  • Using proprietary technologies and those based on standards such as 802.11/Wi-Fi, 802.16/WiMAX, 802.20, and (surprisingly) DOCSIS
  • Established local exchange companies and new competitive providers
  • Targeting urban, suburban and rural markets

We concluded that part of the diversity comes from the fact that broadband wireless technologies make sense for many different market segments. Much of the WISP activity has been in "unserved" markets: areas with low population densities that did not receive broadband service from either the local telephone company or the cable operator. Now wireline carriers are evaluating broadband wireless to reach homes within served markets but not reachable by current technologies -- such as homes more than three miles from the telephone central office. It is increasingly being deployed to compete with existing wireline broadband services.

We are also starting to see a market transition from an opportunity which had first drawn the attention of small entrepreneurial groups that founded WISPs, but now is garnering more big company and mainstream attention. Verizon is clearly in the latter category.

Verizon--"Technological Diversity in the Physical Plant"

Brian Whitton of Verizon --> Click for larger pictureWe have written previously about broadband wireless trials by both Verizon and BellSouth. A keynote speech by Brian Whitton, Executive Director of Network Platform Evolution at Verizon, described how Verizon believes in technological diversity in the physical plant, using technologies that are "service agnostic and service unaware." He said that Verizon can currently qualify between 60-65% of customers from the CO to receive DSL service. That leaves 35-40% that either won't be covered or need another technology to do so. Verizon sees "broadband fixed wireless" (BFW) as one means to increase coverage of DSL-like services. Brian is also very much involved in fiber planning and deployments and this is another direction we expect to see Verizon pursue--although its planning and deployment are significantly slower and more costly than BFW.

Because of recent BFW technology advancements like non-line of sight and self-install, Verizon trialed BFW to see if it could handle the rate, reach and service transparency they required. Brian reported that the trial service did indeed provide the required service coverage of 90%, 99.9% of the time and with sustained DSL-like transmission rates of between 768 kbps and 1.5 Mbps.

Now that Verizon's Fairfax trial has been completed with successful results, they are evaluating RFP responses and expect to select a vendor this quarter; commercial deployment is planned later this year. This depends, however, upon vendor responses meeting Verizon's business case constraints, which include not only price and performance but also OSS integration, tower availability, affordability and access.

It will be interesting to observe where Verizon chooses to deploy BFW (assuming they go forward with it) and where they deploy with fiber. A recent key FCC decision will allow ILECs like Verizon to deploy fiber without requirements for sharing with competitors. Verizon and other LECs have already announced their intention to move more aggressively to use fiber to accelerate DSL deployments, in some cases using existing fiber to deploy DSL from remote terminals, in others to deploy new fiber. We see a balancing act between time to deploy and cost on one hand (favoring BFW and other DSL extension methods) and the desire to offer the complete triple play of services (favoring new fiber). So we'll be watching to see what happens with the RFP selection later this quarter.

Intel--Wireless is More than Wi-Fi

Sriram's positioning of segments --> Click for larger pictureWith the huge public focus that Intel has been putting on Wi-Fi, we were delighted to hear Intel present a balanced view of broadband wireless (see the following article). Sriram Viswanathan, Managing Director at Intel Capital, presented a talk that posited that Wi-Fi is the current wireless disruption and that 802.16 might be the next. He divided broadband wireless access into three basic segments: fixed (for residential and SMB access and for backhaul); portable (destination based and ad-hoc); and mobile.

In the metropolitan area network (MAN) portion, Intel is very supportive of the 802.16a standard, because of its higher throughput at longer ranges and quality of service support. Sriram's talk included a chart showing comparative performance, measured as maximum bits per second per Hertz: 802.16a is capable of ~5 bps/Hz, 802.11a at ~2.7 and 802.20 projected at ~1. Intel has become an advocate for the WiMAX Forum as a way to accelerate broadband wireless access deployments worldwide. Sriram sees WiMAX as the organizational equivalent of the Wi-Fi Alliance for 802.11: driving interoperability and compatibility of IEEE 802.16 conformant systems, leading to interoperable equipment and a stable, standards-based platform.

For component makers like Intel, this represents a volume silicon opportunity. No wonder then that his summary slide said "802.11 is the driver for the 2nd coming of Broadband Wireless."

Our Talks

We gave two talks at the conference:

  • In a session on "Profitability for WISPs", our presentation "Making Residential Broadband Profitable -- The Challenge For WISPs" said that unserved markets are shrinking fast as incumbent wireline providers fill in the gaps, and that WISPs will need to develop competitive strategies based on wireless advantages.
  • We ran an hour-long "Ask the Experts" session. Our presentation "Broadband Applications Trends and Evolution" discussed current and emerging broadband applications in the home. We showed our "home movie" about how we use broadband in our own home, and answered questions from the audience on audio and video applications.

Please see for links to our presentations and "home movie".

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Reference Material

Please see our topical index for our prior articles on broadband wireless access.