WiMax versus WiFi

WiFi has a lot going for it

Speaking at the 2007 WiWorld conference David Jarvis, well known South African telecoms entrepreneur, said that WiFi – and more specifically the 802.11 standard – still provides an affordable alternative to WiMax.

Jarvis highlighted the comparative base station costs of the two technologies as one of the most compelling arguments in favour of WiFi usage in certain environments.

According to Jarvis, a WiMax base station typically costs in the region of $ 35 000 while the accompanying CPE is priced at $ 350-00. Compare this with a WiFi base station which costs a mere $ 2 500-00 and the accompanying CPE price of $ 250-00, and the advantage of selecting WiFi is clear.

Questions have been raised regarding the use of unlicensed WiFi spectrum for commercial purposes and the feasibility of a large 802.11 mesh network, but Sadiq Malik from BCT Global believes that wireless mesh has a lot going for it.

According to Malik the large WiFi mesh network in Moscow – consisting of thousands of WiFi access points bringing universal indoor and outdoor wireless access to millions of people in the city – serves as proof of the scalability and functionality of wireless mesh networks.

One of the most significant advantages of WiFi is the already widespread adoption of the technology and the fact that WiFi modules are already available in a variety of devices like laptops and mobile phones.

10 Reasons why WISPs prefer WiFi

The Wireless Access Providers’ Association of South Africa (WAPA) recently released a list of reasons why Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) prefer WiFi.

“With all the media attention and hype around WiMax this list may help you understand why not to discount practical WiFi technologies that are solving real world problems today,” WAPA said.

WAPA estimates that there are 40 000+ clients who are connected using outdoor WiFi and a potential 1 million more people who have laptops with WiFi features.

1. Outdoor WiFi solutions are tried, proven, tested and stable. WiMax has yet to prove itself and may not deliver on all its promises.

2. No company has a commercial WiMax network running in SA as yet.

3. WiMax equipment, both network backbone equipment and end user devices, are significantly more expensive than WiFi equipment.

4. WiMax is not built into consumer devices, and won’t be for a long time. WiFi is rapidly being incorporated into more and more mobile devices, mobile phones and even the new iPods.

5. WiMax hardware is controlled by the big name electronics companies like Motorola, Intel and Alvarion.

Inexpensive commodity (Chinese and Korean) WiMax components are not available as in the WiFi and PC industry giving wireless network operators’ limited scope for innovation. Proprietary WiMax hardware prevents innovation from the Open Source community.

6. WiMax’s non-line of site distribution model offers a shorter range than WiFi’s line of site distribution, which requires a much higher density of WiMax distribution points in metropolitan areas.

7. There is much less frequency spectrum available for WiMax than for WiFi in the ISM bands. WiMax frequency spectrum is much more regulated by governments, very expensive and usually only available to a small number of incumbent telecoms operators.

8. The new WiFi standard 802.11n has a better data-rate per frequency density ratio than WiMax.

9. WiMax deployments in the Far East have shown that the WiFi business model is superior to the WiMax model.

10. Historically large network operators were customers of proprietary technology vendors.

WiMax

Larger operators however seem hesitant to use WiFi for purposes other than hotspots in areas like coffee shops or airports, and feel more comfortable with WiMax and the accompanying licensed spectrum.

The WiMax advocates however say that the technology provides further advantages over the mesh WiFi networks, including that:

–You only need a few WiMax towers up which will provide the same coverage as tens or even hundreds or WiFi access points
–There is less interference with WiMax
–No need for radio amplifiers as the WiMax signal is typically stronger than a WiFi signal

The added WiMax features of quality of service and mobility with the 802.16e standard makes WiMax an attractive technology for many operators.

WiMax received a major boost recently when the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – the leading United Nations agency for information and communication technologies – took a decision to include WiMax-derived technology in the framework of the IMT-2000 set of standards which may further boost its popularity.

And the winner is

The most probable outcome will be that WiMax and WiFi will peacefully co-exist alongside each other with operators using both technologies to serve their needs.

Combined networks, typically where WiMax is used as a copper replacement technology with a WiFi LAN at the edge, will also emerge.

So while some punters would love to see a VHS-BetaMax type battle with a clear winner at the end of the race, the support and investment in both technologies means that WiMax and WiFi both have a bright future ahead in the telecoms industry.

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WiMax versus WiFi