In the debate over which technology will be adopted for 4G networks it all seems to be going LTE’s way as far as most mobile network operators around the world are concerned.
But Israeli 4G wireless broadband manufacturer Alvarion, which specialises in WiMAX equipment, isn’t too worried. Dr Mo Shakouri, corporate VP, innovation and marketing at Alvarion, says: ‘We don’t want to say which technology is better. The key for us is: what is the ecosystem for broadband spectrum and how can we leverage it? We think there is a lot of leg room for WiMAX in the next two or three years – beyond that, who knows?’
In fact, while Alvarion has focused on WiMAX, it has future-proofed its equipment for LTE-TDD, should its customers choose to go down the that route.
‘We made a focused decision to support WiMAX and LTE-TDD,’ says Shakouri. ‘Our philosophy was; it is cheap spectrum, a wide channel and it’s flexible, as you don’t have specific bands for TDD. There are 17 or 18 frequency bands in LTE. That’s too many varieties of products you’d have to produce to equip each band. We cannot make cheap enough products for all of those bands. But you can for LTE-TDD or LTE-FDD.’
Alvarion has been involved in producing wireless broadband equipment for 15 years. It has worked in more than 150 countries with 280 commercial 4G WiMAX deployments and has shipments worth $500m. Over 300 million people are covered by its top 20 networks.
Shakouri sees plenty of opportunity ahead with the demand for an ‘always connected lifestyle’ growing exponentially, as the availability and the affordability of applications and sophisticated end-user devices grows.
Alvarion sees its growth coming less from carriers and more from private networks such as smart grids, enterprises, smart cities and public safety organisations.
‘4G is not one market,’ says Shakouri, ‘it’s a range of market segments. The core technology is the same, but the optimisation is not. In the US, they are spending billions of dollars to invest in a standalone utility network. They are looking at a WiMAX solution because they want a platform that will last for the next 50 years and they want to do a lot of different things with it. It’s a private network on its own bit of spectrum.’
Shakouri believes the demand for data will outstrip the ability of mobile network operators to provide enough capacity even after building 4G networks, be they LTE or WiMAX.
‘We see multi-technology networks coming to meet customer needs,’ says Shakouri. ‘You may see partnerships between cellular networks and broadband players. To reach speeds of 100Mbps and the capacity demand you need 20MHz and 40MHz channels and no network has that. The next five to 10 years will see more spectrum allocation to enable the move in that direction.’
For Alvarion, with its heritage in wireless on Wi-Fi and WiMAX networks, the strategy has been to develop the capability to leverage both LTE and WiMAX ecosystems. Alvarion is supporting both TDD network evolutions. Next year will see the roll out of WiMAX 1 802.16e enhanced, to be followed by WiMAX 2 802.16m, along with the latest LTE-TDD enhancements.
‘We see that WiMAX 802.16e enhanced, 16m and LTE are all being developed,’ says Shakouri. ‘We have developed our base station infrastructure so it is software defined. That means when you deploy our equipment as a carrier you don’t have to guess which technology is better or will be adopted the most. You can decide on one technology, WiMAX or LTE, and based on the need of the ecosystem, you can add additional capability. LTE and WiMAX 802.16m are 90% the same in terms of core technology. The difference is in the different people and ecosystems driving it.’
Alvarion believes the main focus for LTE is in the FDD spectrum, although others will adopt TDD. But Shakouri views this as helpful to Alvarion, as there is very limited amount of spectrum in FDD – only 20MHz.
‘That means carriers cannot provide enough capacity, so the WiMAX spectrum will be needed. Multi-mode is the way it will happen,’ he argues.
Case study: Nextnet/Banzai 4G network in Norway
How to create a profitable wireless broadband network from a small customer base
Norwegian wireless communication provider Nextnet launched its 4G WiMAX mobile broadband network in the towns of Fredrikstad and Sarpsborg in November last year under the name Banzai 4G.
Nextnet was founded as a Wi-Fi provider in 2000 and was acquired by Hafslund Telekom in 2008. Hafslund is Norway’s largest power/utility provider, which got into the telecoms market by developing one of the biggest fibre optic networks in the country.
Trond Nedregard, CEO of Hafslund Telekom and of Banzai 4G, explains: ‘We won a 2.6MHz license with 20MHz of spectrum by auction in 2008. We had worked with WiMAX and Alvarion since 2004. In 2009, we decided to install a whole network to support our fixed broadband users, but we wanted to move into mobile, so we established Banzai 4G in November 2010.’
Nextnet’s strategy was not to try and establish blanket coverage across the country. Instead, it decided to start in smaller towns and provide coverage in data hotspots. Its goal is to be perceived as the local broadband provider – nationally.
Instead, Nextnet began in the towns of Fredrikstad (population 73,638) and Sarpsborg (pop. 52,289) with small, local area networks. ‘As we already had fibre in those towns, we wanted to start there, and we knew our competitors were looking at other locations. Coverage is not the issue here – it’s bandwidth.’ says Nedregard.
Since then, the network has been extended to the towns of Moss and Askim with another four lined up. What is unusual about Nextnet’s strategy is that it believes it is possible to create a commercially viable business model based on a small user base.
Nextnet had 9,000 customers in Fredrikstad already and only needs a further 3,000 to make the 4G investment commercially viable. But Nedregard believes that even if starting from scratch Nextnet could break even with fewer than 3,000 people, and he intends to trial this.
Nextnet already has some 40 base stations in place, so it only needed to add the 4G WiMAX transmitters to the existing base stations. The boxes support 5MHz channels, but are capable of supporting up to 10MHz. Alvarion’s equipment is designed to work in temperatures ranging from -55°C to +55°C.
Users need to invest in a 4G mobile router costing 1,000 kroner (£107), which provides 3-6Mbps average downlink with a maximum of 10Mbps. It has an uplink speed of 1Mbps.
For the present, Nextnet is restricting the number of subscribers to just 1,500 to ensure that subscribers get the speeds it has promised.
A monthly subscription costs 399 kroner (£43), but five users can be connected with Wi-Fi and there are no restrictions on the amount of data that can be accessed. Nextnet says that the network is both fast enough and has enough capacity to download films, provide live streaming and enable video conferencing.
A test drive through downtown Fredrikstad, which is covered by three base stations, proved that a streaming video handed over seamlessly between base stations without any problem. Equally, a VoIP call to Israel was also carried out without interruption.
Nedregard says it is easy to increase capacity when required by adding more base stations. ‘We have enough at the moment, but we don&r