WiMAX versus ADSL2+?

, posted: 25-Mar-2006 10:35

"The technologies behind WiMAX should allow for wireless data speeds of up to 40 Mbit/s over
a distance of 10 kilometres using relatively inexpensive equipment. These same technologies could also
offer faster data transfers to mobile devices than is possible over current third-generation mobile networks under certain conditions. WiMAX-certified equipment should become available in late 2005 and should significantly increase the speed and reach of wireless data networks."

That's from a recent OECD report on WiMAX, the wireless technology that's been "around the corner" for the past couple of years. Click on the link below for a PDF with the full report.

It's interesting to see that the maximum speed the OECD is talking about has dropped to 40Mbit/s now. When the WiMAX hype started, people were talking 75Mbit/s and even 100Mbit/s - Fast Ethernet speeds, in other words.

The OECD also sounds caution over regulatory SNAFUs tripping up large-scale WiMAX deployment, something that could very well happen as bureaucrats get involved in divvying up frequency bands.

I've actually got a WiMAX connection now, from Natcom (www.natcom.co.nz/airthenet.htm) and it's humming along nicely. It's supposed to be 6M/6M symmetric, but it doesn't go quite as fast on the upstream. Best I've managed is 3Mbit/s steady throughput up, which is very good nevertheless. This is because my location is inbetween two sectors, according to the Natcom techie I've been dealing with.

Like my Wired Country connection, the Natcom Airthenet WiMAX one points to Auckland's Sky Tower which is just over 3km away. Natcom says they're able to reach Waiheke Island from the Sky Tower with the service - that's a 22.5km distance, and they claim 4Mbit/s over the link. Impressive if it's correct.

The WiMAX gear is from Wi-LAN (www.wi-lan.com) and runs in the 5.8GHz frequency range. It can use 3.5GHz licensed spectrum as well, but Natcom doesn't use that in Auckland as they're still waiting for the MED to give them a licence. The aerial is a small, square flatpanel unit, that's powered over Ethernet; a small black box is installed inside the customer premises with an Ethernet interface on it.

I've been hammering the service pretty hard and so far, it's been rock-steady. The latency is low, with sub-10ms roundtrips locally and the downstream throughput shows a completely smooth graph with no peaks and troughs. The upstream isn't quite as smooth, but in both cases, it seems to work somewhat better than Wired Country's REMEC (now Axxcelera) gear. We did some testing with different signal modulation schemes - the CPE and AP gear are both easily configurable on the fly - and got the downstream up to some 15Mbit/s. Now that really is impressive for wireless.

The NatCom Airthenet service isn't the cheapest one around however. While there are no data caps, the asking price for a 2M/2M service is NZ$399 plus GST. Each 2Mbit/s speed increase on top of that costs $200 plus 12.5% GST a month, up to a maximum 6Mbit/s.

Still, the Natcom service leaves Telecom NZ's current ADSL in the dust and provides much needed competition for our monopoly incumbent. We'll see what happens when Telecom launches ADSL2+ in June this year; on paper the second-generation DSL has higher downstream speed than is possible with the Wi-LAN gear, but the upstream is still 1Mbit/s only, making it far less usable for those of us who want to deliver data as well as download it.

Telecom has also a tendency to completely underprovision bandwidth for its broadband (the current DSL only has 24kbit/s per user and month CIR) and it remains to be seen if the backhaul for its present network is up to delivering true ADSL2+ speeds to customers. If the DSLAMs/ISAMs have only the usual single 155Mbit/s ATM STM-1 backhaul, it won't take many customers to use that up.

UPDATE: Here's the link to the OECD paper...


Other related posts:
The problem with VDSL2, part 2
The problem with VDSL2
The mysterious Dynamic Line Management on VDSL2

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