Wireless Broadband - It's Really about VoIP
We have seen an onslaught of announcements over the last few weeks about wireless broadband technologies from Wi-Max for Consumers as reported by Robin Arnfield for Wireless NewsFactor to the latest new acronym Wi-Bro (4G wireless in Korea) to tests by Vonage of VoIP on Verizon's EV-DO. Even Om Malik has declared "Broadband Wireless comes Back from the Dead."
But it's enough to get some observers to throw up their hands in disgust at the hype machine. Broadband Reports writes "If the marketing department behind the Wi-max standard got into politics, they could probably elect a lamp to office within weeks." And a recent study published in TelephonyOnline reports "WiMax, MobileFI no threat to DSL." The study states the belief that broadband wireless will be deployed in neighborhoods that are not currently served by fixed line broadband.
So which is it? Is wireless broadband finally coming of age? Or is it the most over-hyped technology since... social networking software?
The key to understanding why wireless broadband is going to be enormous over the next few years is in looking beyond data access and thinking about voice as an application on the network. There is an interesting use case distinction between data and voice -- most of the time when we are using data we are sitting still. Wireless connectivity gives us the flexibility to sit where we want, but we aren't moving. With voice much of the time we are in motion. Fixed broadband connectivity can bridge to local Wi-Fi stations for data use and give us sufficient flexibility. But for voice connectivity, users need a much greater range, which broadband wireless could provide.
One alternate approach is offered by LocustWorld, the Wireless Mesh, which bridges multiple wireless nodes into a seamless single network. But even with 802.11g you would have a hard time keeping a VoWLAN connection as you drive all over town. This is where the range of wireless broadband services becomes important. Newsfactor reports that Alvarion has launched a new product with a 30 mile range. This would allow you to take a VoIP phone all over town. Combined with a mesh network, you suddenly have a replacement for cellular, all over the country.
Voice will drive the economics of installing the infrastructure for broadband wireless and fixed line broadband for data will simply be collateral damage along the way.