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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

WiMax, last mile Internet access

Features of the week:

The need to expand Internet access in the country has taken a new turn as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) now route for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMax) to achieve the last mile, writes REMMY NWEKE.

Before now most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the country were basically deploying their services through the Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT). But strong indications have it that WiMax is grabbing the market from VSAT with better service offerings.

Accenting to this proposition, President of the Nigeria Internet Group (NIG), Mr. Lanre Ajayi, recently declared that WiMax, is where the future market of Internet access is because it is cheaper and tends to take over from VSAT.

His argument was that WiMax apart from being reasonably priced is also affordable with a 100 per cent reduction over the price of VSAT currently.

Good thing about WiMax, he said, is that it comes along with the same broadband quality if not better than that offered by VSAT, thereby driving massive internet penetration. He also fixed the cost of WiMax terminal devices at not more than N51,200, about $400 as against VSAT’s price of N512,000, about $4000. Stressing this would afford both corporate bodies and homes requiring broadband technology access to Internet.

"WiMax would bring broadband, just the way VSAT is also bringing broadband and at affordable cost," he affirmed.

WiMax technology

This is a standards-based wireless technology that provides high-throughput broadband connections over long distances. WiMax could be used for a number of applications, including "last mile" broadband connections, hotspots and cellular backhaul, as well as high-speed enterprise connectivity for private homes and businesses.

In accordance with WiMax forum, it is a standard that enables the delivery of last mile wireless broadband access as an alternative to cable and Digital Subscriber Line (DSL).

WiMax also provides fixed, nomadic, portable, and, ultimately, mobile wireless broadband connectivity without necessarily direct line-of-sight to a base station.

It is informed by WiMax forum that in a typical cell radius deployment of three to 10 kilometers, WiMax certified systems could be expected to deliver capacity of up to 40 Megabits per second (Mbps) per channel, for fixed and portable access applications, hence availing enough bandwidth to simultaneously support hundreds of businesses with T-1 speed connectivity and thousands of residences with DSL speed connectivity.

Mobile network deployments are expected to provide up to 15 Mbps of capacity within a typical cell radius deployment of up to three kilometers. Therefore it is anticipated that WiMax technology will be incorporated in notebook computers and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) by 2007, allowing for urban areas and cities to turn into "metro zones" for portable outdoor broadband wireless access.

Globacom connection

Providing this connectivity, Mr. Ajayi, who also is the chief executive of PiNet Informatics, said, would spur access to the populace, expecting that by the end of this year, 2006, there would be massive deployment of WiMax in most cities of the country, which is in line with the projection of global WiMax forum.

This he said, would bring about a revolution in the industry, especially in the area of Internet penetration and usage, underscoring that the revolution would be likened to that of the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) in the country.

An additional success factor, he said, is the transmission link, which today calls for lots of cable being laid across the country such as fibre optic, just as he also observed that these are currently being used mainly for voice services.

He anticipates that when WiMax is there for the people to use, some of these transmission links would be used tremendously for data and Internet access.

Mr. Ajayi further said that with the progress made so far by the likes of the Second National Operator (SNO), Globacom, on installing fibre optic nationwide and coming of WiMax, promotion of local content to the rest of the world from Nigeria would be an easy journey.

This came as a Lagos-based wireless internet access solution provider, NetnearU, is leveraging on the Globacom’s General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) to penetrate the homes in the country.

Managing Director, NetnearU, Mr. Kaycee A. Kennedy, who made this known penultimate Monday, said the firm has deployed 300 WiMax hotspots nationwide.

These hotspots, he said, came as response by the firm to venture into this territory so as to bring Internet access closer and affordable to Nigerians. And in line with this, NetnearU is collaborating with the SNO on its GPRS.

"We’re partnering with Glo’s GPRS on access to the hotspots and we’re deploying it in commercial quantity" he declared.

Explaining that with the offer, his company is dangling, a proposal for N9,999 monthly Laptops which come with two years warranty and Internet access at hotspots in addition to two-year insurance cover, and Glo’s GPRS-enabled internet card.

He also emphasized that the partnership with Glo would enable end-users who may have Laptops or even interested on the offer of With Out Worry (WOW) nationwide, based on Glo’s massive coverage of the country to join the fray.

From Abuja to Lagos

In continuation of the efforts to link the country with wireless connectivity embedded in WiMax, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja has engaged Intel Corporation and its local partners such as NetnearU, even as Intel opened its regional office in Lagos.

This came as a United States-based 5G Wireless Communications and Polestar Nigeria announced a collaboration to deploy high speed Wireless Fidelity (WiFi) in Lagos State, with a promise of 24/7 uninterrupted internet connectivity via citywide cellular-style WiFi stations.

Remarkable is that Wi-Fi technology was designed and optimized for Local Area Networks (LAN), whereas WiMax was designed and optimized for Metropolitan Area Networks (MAN).

This step forms part of the phased massive infrastructural outlay that comes with the city-wide base station model 802.11b series, while Polestar explained that already, about four base stations are up and running in Lagos.

The NetnearU

In order to further boost this trend, Intel after opening its office in Lagos endorsed a deal in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with NetnearU, to strengthen the local solution provider deployment of WiMax nationwide.

Speaking at the ceremony, Vice President, Intel Corporation, Dr. John Davies, who signed for his firm said that WiMax was made available to the public over a year ago by the firm, just as they were eager on opening the market through enabling connectivity by mainstreaming its base stations deployment.

Recounting that Nigeria is a veritable market place, Dr. Davies said, that was the reason behind Intel’s location of its West African office in Lagos. Pointing out that Intel would work with local PC assemblers, even as it has commenced partnership with the Nigerian government and some organizations.

He used the opportunity to activate the newly deployed 300 hotspots by NetnearU, thus bringing the number of hotspots by this wireless provider to 327.

Throwing more light on the MoU, Mr. Kennedy, said it would allow Intel to provide hardware solutions to deal with challenges faced in deployment of computers in the country, such as the subject of affordability, and reaching out to rural areas.

NetnearU, he also said is expected to gain by way of getting advice on WiMax deployment, while the two firms are to collaborate on projects such as Computer for All Nigerians Initiative (CANI), Wireless Without Worry (WOW) and rural connectivity.

On the other hand, NetnearU, is to provide broadband Internet connectivity, using appropriate technology WiMax connect to homes, schools and offices in the country, while also exploring other opportunities of collaboration with Intel, even as the MoU is to lower the cost of WiMax deployment in the country for internet access.

He said corporate individuals and organizations who signed on the NetnearU hotspots would get a flexible and cost convenient opportunity to own Hewlett Packard (HP) NX6110 Celeron or Centrino business notebook, equipped with Globacom’s Global Packet Radio Service (GPRS)-enabled Internet cards.

Some of the NetnearU hotspot in the country include NetnearU café, Chocolat Royale, Barcelos, Dolphin Estate, Astro Turf 2000, Irrua, NTA stations in Benin, Ibadan, Kaduna and all Chicken Republic outlets, as well as Federal Housing Authority Estate, Alexandar Café and NIIT Abuja respectively.

Caution

A word of caution, however, from WiMax forum is that there are vendors claiming their equipment is "WiMax-ready," or "WiMax-compliant," and "802.16-compliant," etcetera, these products may not be WiMax forum certified, meaning that their equipment is not independently certified to be interoperable with other vendors’ equipment. Only WiMax forum certified equipment is proven interoperable with other vendors’ equipment that is also certified.

ITREALMS Online recollects that recently, the WiMax forum selected Cetecom Spain as its first official certification laboratory and by July 2005, Cetecom started accepting member company products to validate the test scripts used during certification. This validation is a prerequisite to the start of certification waves that test conformance and interoperability.

Three waves of certification testing are planned through 2006 with mobile WiMax certification as early as the end of 2006.

Experts see the selection of Cetecom as a critical milestone on the path to enabling commercial availability of WiMax forum certified products, has affiliate regional labs which allow forum’s members worldwide to easily access the testing facilities.

The WiMax forum has gained significant momentum over the past two years, particularly from mid-2004, when the organization established mid-2005 as the target date for launching the forum’s certified programme.

Since that time, the forum profiles were selected; the International Electrical Electronics Engineers IEEE (802.16-2004) standard was completed, silicon manufacturers began sampling their products and the test lab was selected.

The forum also established a relationship with European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to develop the test procedures used in the actual testing, whereas preparation of the test lab is the final step before launching the certification programme.
So, as we wait to see the level of penetration to be made by 2007, WiMax currently remains the last mile for Internet access in the country.

photo: remmy nweke

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