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Last Friday, ZDNet.co.uk was treated to a demonstration of mobile WiMax, the variant of the high-speed, long-distance and high-bandwidth wireless technology that enables users to be connected on the move.
The demonstration took place at the Berkshire offices of Nortel, the Canada-headquartered networking and communications giant.
Nortel is working closely with several other companies to bring mobile WiMax to the market. Pictured here alongside Nortel's director of wireless for Europe, Gerry Collins (left), is Sasha Williamson, the founder and chief executive of Urban Wimax. Urban Wimax, which could become one of the main service providers in the UK to offer mobile WiMax, has already rolled out a fixed WiMax network in central London, catering to businesses that want a wireless alternative to symmetrical DSL.
However, in the UK everything depends on the outcome of a spectrum auction, set to take place early next year. The auction of wireless real estate in the 2.5GHz-2.69GHz frequency could see the proponents of 3G technology acquire even more spectrum for their mobile broadband services, or it could let players such as Urban Wimax enter the market as competition.
Other companies currently working with Nortel in its mobile Wimax push include handset manufacturer LG and Macropolitan, a company that acts as a broker between property owners and operators who need rooftop space to install their masts and antennae.
Nortel's chief technology officer, John Roese, joined the demonstration from his Canadian offices to show off the high-quality videoconferencing capabilities of Wimax.
Expanding further on a trend first described earlier this year by Nortel, Roese claimed that "hyperconnectivity" would see trillion-node networks being a reality within the next 30 years. Hyperconnectivity, a term largely invented by Nortel, refers to networks that link up not only people, but also several devices for every connected person — ultimately creating a scenario where all sorts of gadgets and machines talk to each other constantly.
"We have to build a new generation of wireless technology to connect more devices," said Roese. He suggested that mobile WiMax was ideally suited to hyperconnectivity because it "operates on the LAN paradigm, not the classic carrier paradigm" and uses spectrum efficiently enough to cut the price of connectivity.
Roese also claimed that mobile WiMax "may be the first manifestation" of 4G, but he acknowledged that the rival technology LTE (Long Term Evolution) might also qualify as 4G once its standards are ratified next year.
As part of the demonstration, a Slingbox feed — in this case Canadian television — was relayed via the internet to an ultraportable notebook sporting a WiMax card. One of the strengths of mobile WiMax, according to its supporters, is its ability to transmit DVD-quality video and audio without any significant delays or jitters. Video and audio are applications that are not well suited to 3G.
This also makes mobile WiMax a good candidate to be included in future portable games consoles for gameplay over the wireless internet. It could also be used to broadcast content to video displays in cars and public transport.
According to Urban Wimax's Sasha Williamson, mobile WiMax and 3G will be able to co-exist for several years, with 3G taking care of simpler applications such as voice, email and basic web browsing, while mobile WiMax handles the more bandwidth-intensive applications that can make use of its symmetrical upload/download capabilities.
A stream from a high-definition CCTV camera was also demonstrated. Mobile WiMax's proponents claim the technology could usher in a new era of video surveillance, with quality high enough to enable automated facial recognition even while the stream is being watched from a police van on the move.