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2006 Wireless Broadband Technology

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Last updated: 19 Sep 2006 Update History

Report Status: Archived

Report Pages: 103

Analyst: Stephen McNamara

Publication Overview

This report introduces managers, investors and technical people to the major wireless broadband technologies IEEE 802.11 (WiFi) and IEEE 802.16 (WiMAX) – and to a number of related technologies. These include short-distance Bluetooth and Ultra Wideband (UWB) and several short distance low-rate systems such as RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), ZigBee (IEEE 802.15.4) and Near-Field Communications (NFCIP).

Key sections:-

  • Historical background
  • Principles of operation
  • Technical standards
  • Critical analysis of strengths and weaknesses
  • Competition with other technologies
  • Opportunities for new services
  • Combining technologies
  • Industry consortia, standards bodies, regulators and key vendors
  • Explaining established technologies in detail

Executive Summary

Wireless Broadband traditionally refers to “last-mile” delivery of high speed data, typically for Internet access and private networking, in metropolitan and rural areas, over distances of hundreds of metres to several kilometres. WiMAX in particular has long been promoted as a viable alternative to DSL, including for “Triple Play” voice, video and data services. We critically examine the capabilities of this emerging technology in the context of limited spectrum availability in the frequencies best suited for longer distance propagation.

Another technology with great appeal for delivering broadband services without a cabled infrastructure is the use of “Mesh Networking”, with WiFi or WiMAX. Mesh networking involves dozens or hundreds of nodes, sharing traffic between themselves, dynamically configuring themselves according to traffic patterns, propagation and interference limitations, to form a self-managing backbone network which can be spread, in principle, over large urban and perhaps rural areas. We report on the status of technical standards in this field and discuss the challenges which will need to be overcome in order to deploy robust, standards-based mesh networks.

While Bluetooth is neither long distance or broadband, it is a successful Personal Area Networking technology with several important implications. Firstly, it uses the same frequencies as most WiFi systems, requiring very careful coordination of frequencies and transmit/receive timing with any device, such as a laptop, which is both WiFi and Bluetooth compatible. Secondly, future broadband Bluetooth will use UWB’s radio technology, greatly increasing its data rate and potentially improving its robustness.

UWB is a promising but controversial technology. Initially based on pulse techniques which covered vast ranges of frequencies, including those used for licensed services, UWB has emerged with a sophisticated OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) radio specification which enables it, in principle, to avoid interference from and to other services, including WiMAX. We consider UWB’s promise as in in-building data- and video-centric networking system. We examine challenges such as the potential difficulties of implementing both WiMAX and UWB in the same device, or operating two such devices in close proximity.

The range of technologies discussed in this report spans very low data rate RFID to WiMAX and WiFi with bandwidths of potentially tens of Megabits per second. There are areas of overlap between the functionality of many of these technologies - and some conflicts between them due to their use of the same radio frequency spectrum without interoperability or thorough techniques of sharing the resource properly.

This report details the key technical principles behind each technology, including some currently little known approaches such as 60GHz millimetre wave communications for several hundred metres, with oxygen absorption enabling frequency re-use in nearby links. Some familiarity with basic telecommunications and radio terminology is assumed, but the report is written for non-engineers, or engineers from other fields, who wish to develop a comprehensive overview of Wireless Broadband and related technologies.

We intend that by developing sufficient understanding of radio frequency propagation and of the principles of each technology, readers will be able to understand the key challenges and benefits of each applicable technology in the setting they are considering. The report provides a solid, independent overview of the field, and constitutes a solid basis for further consultation and consideration of the systems provided by particular vendors.

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Paul, Many thanks for your inputs yesterday. You provided a compelling different perspective to our traditional infrastructure focus and this is valuable for our future planning. I also had very favourable feedback from our participants on your involvement.

Stephen Negus, Aurecon

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