Mobile WiMax Commercial Launch Planned For Northeast Region In August - InformationWeek

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Mobile WiMax Commercial Launch Planned For Northeast Region In August

Horizon Wi-Fi, a well-financed startup, has installed towers in nine Northeast cities and is testing the service in each city with initial users.

A WiMax network covering a wide swath of the Northeast from Virginia to Maine is preparing to launch commercial service in August. It could pose a challenge for existing Wi-Fi municipal networks and eventually for cable and DSL broadband networks.

Horizon Wi-Com, a well-financed startup, has installed towers in nine Northeast cities and is testing the service in each city with initial users. "All the cities have something in place and we're continuing to build infrastructure," said Ron Olexa, president of Horizon Wi-Com, in an interview. "We're starting with covering the population centers. We are still trying to understand the user to see what the user wants."

Olexa said the company has partnered with existing wireless tower firms to place base stations on existing tower and rooftop locations. In some locations in less-populated areas, the base stations reach out four to five miles. In more congested areas with lower towers and more building interference, the range is lowered to 1.5 to 2.5 miles. "It drops to three-quarters of a mile to a mile [reaching] into buildings," he said. "But it's still great."

The initial deployments have been installed and are up-and-running in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Richmond, and Cincinnati. The 802.16e [Mobile WiMax] technology operates in the licensed 2.3 GHz spectrum band. Horizon Wi-Com purchased eight licenses from Verizon several months ago to enable it to cover the vast region from Virginian to Maine and west to Ohio. The only exception is an area around Erie, Pennsylvania that is not covered by the licenses.

Horizon Wi-Com is working with equipment supplier Navini Networks, which is building base stations and customer gear for the network. Olexa said Horizon Wi-Com and Navini are committed to delivering equipment that will interoperate with standard WiMax hardware while they wait for the WiMax Forum to approve Wave 2 certification, which will enable Horizon to more ahead quickly.

"Right now, we're operating on a non-standard standard," Olexa said, explaining that the current pre-WiMax Navini gear is software upgradeable, making it easy to meet the standard specs when they are approved. WiMax Mobile will be able to easily deliver speeds of more than 5 Mbps, Olexa said, noting that almost all users are happy with 2 Mbps or 3 Mbps.

"We'll be Wave 2 compliant," said Olexa. "We've expected approval any day for months." He expects Horizon Wi-Com will launch its service soon after the WiMax Forum approval.

Why would any user want Mobile WiMax?

"Our best selling point is the portability that goes with it," he said, noting that a user could move from office to home to hotel to coffee shop with the same service and not lose a connection. He said Navini has developed a modem for stationary desktops, but also cards for laptops. Olexa said he expects handheld devices will eventually be available for use with the service, and he observed that Motorola, for one, has been working to develop such devices.

Another selling point, he said, is Horizon Wi-Com's plan to offer Mobile WiMax as a standalone service in an appeal to users who don't like the idea that they usually have to sign up for a bundle of services to get the best price for their broadband.

That said, Olexa added that telephone service eventually could be available on the service in VoIP format.

Olexa said Horizon Wi-Com plans to roll out commercial service in concentric circles from its core centers in the nine cities in much the same way that cellular service has been deployed. "Deployment will be evolutionary," he said. "We'll keep building out to stay ahead of the power curve."

Asked how the WiMax deployment will relate with existing Wi-Fi technology, Olexa said he expects the two will be complementary in most home and office situations.

"But I've never been able to understand community and municipal rollouts of Wi-Fi," he added. "Coverage is tough" when wider distances are attempted to be covered. Indeed, many communities across the U.S. from Sacramento to San Francisco to Boston have had troubles rolling out municipal Wi-Fi networks.

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