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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.
A variety of devices from a range of manufacturers is already available to those wanting to add mobile WiMax functionality to their offices and computers; although none of them, of course, will be much use in the UK unless spectrum goes to a mobile WiMax provider in next year's auction.
It remains unclear who will bid for spectrum for mobile WiMax usage. Nortel has invested around $100m (£50m) into the push for mobile WiMax, but it will not buy spectrum for itself. It may, however, "invest a certain amount of resources to stimulate the market", according to Gerry Collins.
Collins pointed out that Nortel has in the past been burned through its heavy investment in 3G — it sold its 3G basestation business to Alcatel-Lucent last year because "usage of networks was not coming to the level where they were requiring significant upgrades" — but it retains patents in both WiMax and LTE. However, he also suggested that, because LTE's standards are only likely to be ratified next year, it would fall behind mobile WiMax, which (auction results permitting) could be fully established in the UK by the end of 2008.
"The momentum in the WiMax market continues to increase, and with that the chipset industry is starting to invest more," said Collins, adding that this investment affects production cycles and "might even delay LTE".