What WiMax is, what it stands for, and what it can do for your country
A seasoned taxi driver in Cairo can light his cigarette, change tapes on his cassette player, and adjust his rear-view mirror, all at the same time – while also rolling down the passenger-side window – and still avoid the bus to his left, pothole straight ahead, and luxury SUV to his right blocking out the sun. All while he s talking on his mobile phone the entire time.
Multitasking is important in all walks of life.
The ethos of being able to do as much as you can – while always on the move – is driving technology convergence like an Egyptian taxi ride. Portability is one relentless issue; connectivity another; and most of all, compatibility.
These demands have pushed manufacturers into wireless pursuits.
We are becoming more familiar with Wi-Fi, Wireless Fidelity, the standard used in the home or office so that can you can have broadband Internet access without your computer being physically cabled. This standard says your device has met certain rules like conformity and interoperability. Wi-Fi is what enables on-the-go businesspeople and students to surf the web with laptops perched on café tables in Cilantro and other so-called Wi-Fi hotspots throughout Cairo.
Though Wi-Fi remains an effective technology, its drawbacks are its limited range of up to 100 m. and restricted ability to penetrate walls and obstructions. If the Wi-Fi hotspot is a large space, people sitting in the far corners might find their signal weak or wavering. If you’re the big boss hidden behind winding hallways and double doors on the second floor, your access might also be restricted due to these physical obstructions.
This brings us to WiMax: Wi-Fi on crack, if you will. It stands for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access and is just starting to take off this year. WiMax, just like Wi-Fi, is not a technology, but rather a certification mark for agreeing on a set of rules for using a specific radio frequency to transmit data. It states that your device operates on the IEEE 802.16 standard exclusive to WiMax. It’s a different frequency – and a different way of using a frequency – than the IEEE 802.11 standard that your local area network abides by and on which Wi-Fi operates.
A bit technical, I admit. This is why terms like Wi-Fi become so popular – and now, increasingly, the term WiMax
WiMax improves on a number of the limitations of Wi-Fi. Specifically, WiMax can provide you with connectivity over ranges of up to 50 km. About 2,000 WiMax towers spaced out over Cairo s 90,000 sq km area could serve the city, especially if you throw in a few booster towers dotted around since the signal would weaken as it nears 50 km. The vision of 20 meter-tall steel towers dominating the Cairo skyline might give you nightmares. But think about it – if there was just one in each of Zamalek, Giza, Maadi and Heliopolis, the most densely populated areas of Cairo would have wireless access not only from all homes and businesses, but even in the streets and in our cars.
The WiMax base stations themselves are being cited as costing less than $20,000 and capable of data rates of up to 70 megabits per second (Mbps). A typical medium-sized business might require an Internet DSL connection speed of 1 Mbps at a cost of LE 380 per month for a 1:4 upload/download rate. Given this, one WiMax tower could service over 60 businesses. And while Wi-Fi capabilities are limited if the signal has to turn too many corners or penetrate too many walls, WiMax works very reliably via non-line-of-sight.
This isn’t just about convenience, so that all the technophiles can use their super-cool mobile kit all over town. Wi-Fi was the first chance to rise above the physical by not having to string network cables through the workplace, home, or cafe; with WiMax, for the same reasons, you don’t have to dig up streets.
New companies – but more importantly in Cairo, many existing companies – wouldn’t have to tear up buildings and dig up streets to lay cables everywhere. This gives wireless a tremendous advantage over fixed cable, DSL and land-line based broadband.
WiMax means that Internet standards are also going to be butting heads somewhat with telecom standards like 2G, 3G, and 4G. Sure you can use your mobile phone and its 3G or 4G telecom access to check your email now (something that Google just released for Gmail on Thursday in the US). Now though, people with Blackberries or other PDAs are already getting a choice: their PDAs can access email via telecom access, or via the PDA’s new built-in ability to connect to the Internet via wireless networks.
Telecom has a head start in the market, with the Gs currently providing mobility, services and telecommunications better than WiMax. Looking ahead though, WiMax could offer customers better value for money.
If your handset can see the Internet, and the access is high-speed, then it would likely be a heck of a lot cheaper while walking down the street in Cairo to voice-chat with your mate over Skype or MSN Messenger rather than making a phone call, especially once international long-distance rates are taken into consideration.
As has been the case for several years now, the telecoms are shaking in their boots.
Ben RombergA few well located towers could blanket the city with wireless internet access