Fiber-optic and wireless technologies appear to be heading for larger shares of broadband residential and business communications access as they displace cable and DSL.
Broadband access is the fastestgrowing segment of the huge global-communications market, but no single technology appears to have cornered the market. Although most current customers receive broadband access by means of digital-subscriber-line (DSL) or cable-modem connections, trends show that tomorrow's broadband users are more likely to rely on wireless or fiber access.
Generating most of the excitement in wireless broadband at the moment is the IEEE's 802.16 standard, popularly known as WiMAX (for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access). WiMAX, which will use frequencies (in bands) from about 2.5 GHz to as high as 66 GHz to provide broadband communications, was originally intended as a fixed-station system capable or some portability, although current efforts are seeking to modify the standard with mobility capability. Using base stations much like the transceivers used for cellular communications networks, a WiMAX system holds the promise of fixed data rates as high as 40 Mb/s at distances of 3 to 10 km from a base station, with mobile rates to 15 Mb/s at distances to 3 km from a base station.
Companies in support of universal interoperabilityof WiMAX products—perhapshaving learned from the slow start suffered by wireless-local-area-network (WLAN) equipment suppliers due to lack of interoperability—have teamed to form the nonprofit WiMAX Forum (www.wimaxforum.org) to promote the standard and interoperability of the equipment. With more than 200 member companies, WiMAX Forum board member companies include AT&T, British Telecom, Fujitsu, Intel, Samsung, and Sprint. Additional member companies represent a "who's who in electronics," including Agilent Technologies, Atmel, Dell Computer, M/A-COM, Microsoft, Motorola, TriQuint Semiconductor, and Vectron International.
Motorola (www.motorola.com), in fact, recently teamed with Trendsmedia (www.trendsmedia.com) at the recent WiMAX World show to conduct a survey of 424 attendees on WiMAX. Some 45 percent of respondents predicted that the ability to achieve seamless mobility through interoperability among various devices and networks would be critical to the success of WiMAX. The survey also revealed that more than half of the respondents— 57 percent—believe that the principal reason a service provider would wait for 802.16e (the mobility version) instead of deploying 802.16d or proprietary solutions is the technology's ability to support mobility as well as fixed or nomadic services. More than 50 percent of survey respondents believe that the most attractive or breakthrough application that will drive this use of WiMAX will be last-mile data connectivity. Another research firm, Maravedis, has found that WiMAX is one of the fastestgrowing emerging sectors within the world's telecommunications industry, with the global market for fixed and mobile broadband solutions estimated at up to US$1 billion in 2007 and US$4 billion by 2010.
Earlier this year, Motorola announced its focus on 802.16e with its MOTOwi4? product line of fixed and mobile broadband solutions. The company also announced that it will team with Intel (www.intel.com) to advance the use of mobile WiMAX technology, based on the proposed IEEE 802.16e standard for both fixed and wireless broadband applications, and that both companies would work together to ensure that network and device interoperability issues are addressed. "WiMAX is beginning to deliver on its promise to provide broadband wireless access to businesses and consumers, and the promise of full mobility is around the corner with the anticipated ratification of the 802.16e standard," notes Scott Richardson, general manager of Intel's Broadband Wireless Division.
From the excitement surrounding WiMAX, it would appear that the broadband world will be a wireless one. But major service providers such as Verizon (www.verizon.com) are hedging their bets with major investments in fiber-optic technology. Verizon recently announced outstanding third-quarter financial results with 1.9 million new wireless customers during the quarter to reach a total of 49.3 million customersoverall. The firm also added 389,000 new broadband customers in the third quarter. Revenues for the quarter were up $1 billion over the same quarter in 2004, to $8.4 billion (14.2 percent growth), the 13th consecutive quarter of double-digit year-overyear-revenue growth increase.
In spite of its strong wireless showings, Verizon continues to install and sell its FiOS fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks, and is determined to run fiber to homes and businesses in more than half of the states where it currently offers landline communications services. Verizon recently brought its fiberbased broadband services to parts of Middletown, DE and surrounding towns. The residential service plans offers three tiers of performance, with basic service providing downstream (download) speeds to 5 Mb/s and upstream (upload) speeds to 2 Mb/s, an improved plan with downstream and upstream speeds to 15 and 2 Mb/s, respectively, and the best plan offering downstream and upstream speeds to 30 and 5 Mb/s, respectively.
In addition to Internet access, the firm is also planning to launch FiOS TV to compete directly with cable-television (CATV) providers. Once the necessary network equipment is in place, FiOS TV will be available in markets where Verizon has negotiated cable franchise agreements with local authorities.
That alternative broadband technology, broadband over power line (BPL), came under attack recently by the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL, www.arrl.org) after a full-scale BPL system went online in the city of Manassas, VA. Citing the effects of the BPL's radiated electromagnetic (EM) interference n other radio systems, the ARRL asked the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC, www.fcc.gov) to shut down the system, which is operated for the city by Communications Technologies (COMTek, www.comtechnologies.com). ARRL called the system a source of harmful interference for amateur radio operators and "not compliant with applicable FCC Part 15 regulations" according to ARRL's 16-page filing with the FCC. For more on the continuing saga of BPL, ultrawideband (UWB), and other broadband technologies, read the e-mail newsletter Microwaves & RF UPDATE (available for subscription at www.mwrf.com).