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White Spaces Device Could Combine WiMAX and Wi-Fi

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The FCC decision on Tuesday that opened up a huge chunk of spectrum for broadband services is a decided victory for its proponents, but there are still many details left to figure out, including what kind of radios will be used to “tune” into the Internet. Today, at an event, Larry Page of Google said any such chips used in these devices should cost less than $5.

One way to do that is to put multiple radios on the chip, tuned to the variety of available spectrum, and let them use the existing WiMAX or Wi-Fi protocols, rather than coming up with something new. Wi-Fi chips are cheap, and WiMAX prices should come down as more networks are deployed. Jeff Thompson, CEO of Towerstream (s TWER), a provider of wireless broadband to business using WiMAX, says using an existing and open network protocol makes sense.

He doesn’t know exactly what will happen, but Thompson says many players such as Intel (s INTC) and Fujitsu (s FJTSY) are combining Wi-Fi and WiMAX radios in a single package, and both protocols have something to offer in the white spaces spectrum. Wi-Fi could work for local area networking while WiMAX would allow the signal to travel over a longer range. The end result would be a mobile broadband device that could work as fixed device, as well as on the go. Because the spectrum is unlicensed, a network operator could offer the broadband service at cheaper rates than current data plans from wireless carriers.

5 Responses to “White Spaces Device Could Combine WiMAX and Wi-Fi”

  1. Jesse Kopelman


    I would imagine 802.22 will be subsumed into 802.16, much the same way 802.20 was. 802.16 is already a very flexible framwork that allows for just about any radio techniques one might imagine. There is no profit in having competing standards, when the goal is commodity priced hardware. If 802.22 does persist, it will be because of the long term desire for truly cognitive radio — but that is a technology that has always remained just over the horizon and I don’t see this changing in a 5 year time frame.

  2. We already have the afore referenced situation with multiple examples in the 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz and 5.3 GHz frequency spectrums. Cordless phones, WiFi, and microwave ovens all operate in the 2.4 GHz spectrum. Not perfect, but sure is convenient and inexpensive. Licensed does not mean no interference. Probably will require reducing the signal strength and focusing on smaller campus regions to be effective.

    the way, the FCC has some pretty stringent rules about jumping in and interfering. Usually carriers take great care not to interfere, because that goes both ways … and nobody will pay low cost wireless anything for something they cannot use.

    4G is about 65% cheaper to deploy, 50% more coverage, and has great data handling capabilities. 3G was voice centric and cannot compete. Major carriers (AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, etc. have not yet amortized their investments in analog, 1X, and EVDO yet. Now comes WiMAX and my personal opinion is Craig McCaw and Sprint will kick their you know whats (if they launch WiMAX successfully).

    Just my 2 cents worth.

  3. “Because the spectrum is unlicensed, a network operator could offer the broadband service at cheaper rates than current data plans from wireless carriers.”

    I don’t really see it happening like this. TANSTAAFL.

    To illustrate, look at two extremes.

    1) There are unforeseen problems and this doesn’t take off. Then, so what?
    2) It ends up being great spectrum and a great protocol and LowCostWireless jumps in with cheap prices that drive up market share. MeTooWireless wants a piece of the profit and jumps in — since there is no licensing the two carriers interfere. MeThree, MeFour, and MeHoweverMany join in until the interference gets to an unacceptable level. Then, customers are willing to pay more for a network that works reliably (its licensed).