Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Big WiMAX deal could have sufficient backhaul due to cableco involvement

Less than a week after an Unstrung analysis noted the launch of Sprint's Xohm WiMAX was delayed due to insufficient backhaul over 1970's era copper-based T-1 lines that also threatens future 4G rollouts, The Wall Street Journal reports Sprint, WiMAX player Clearwire, Web portal Google, and chip maker Intel and big cable companies Comcast and Time Warner Cable have joined forces to create a WiMAX protocol-based wireless voice and broadband network.

The offering, which could provide downloads of 5Mbs on a par with current cable Internet service, isn't likely to encounter backhaul problems since it involves both wireless and wireline players -- the latter being Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Both companies are likely to be able to provide adequate backhaul. But some observers aren't so sure. One notes there are doubts that the cableco partners can provide adequate backhaul capacity without upgrading their infrastructures. Additionally, Google told Unstrung it won't be making available its proprietary fiber to serve as backhaul for the new Clearwire venture. According to Unstrung, for now Clearwire intends to rely primarily on its proprietary microwave network for backhaul.

If the WiMAX technology works as expected and this service is rolled out quickly, in addition to mobile customers it could sign on fixed residential and small business customers located in areas not served by the cable companies or those stuck in the many telco broadband black holes where DSL wasn't deployed in the past several years and where infrastructure for Internet Protocol-based advanced bundled services has yet to be built.

A report released May 7 by the UK-based Juniper Research supports this analysis. Report author Howard Wilcox predicts WiMAX "will be an attractive offer" in areas where there are no wired networks, and in areas where the existing DSL speed is suboptimal, (i.e. 1.5Mbs or less). "WiMAX will solve the broadband access problem for users located at the fringes of DSL coverage," Wilcox wrote.

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