Seven vividly proves WiMax not dead yet

Seven vividly proves WiMax not dead yet

Summary: It wasn't too long ago that critics of WiMax wireless technology were declaring it dead at the starting gate.


It wasn't too long ago that critics of WiMax wireless technology were declaring it dead at the starting gate.

The newly-installed Rudd-Conroy show nixed the previous government's WiMax-based OPEL roll-out, favouring the winding path that has led us to the current NBN process. Critics said emerging 3G networks had the bandwidth and ubiquity that WiMax start-ups lacked. However, it appears somebody forgot to tell Seven.

The announcement that Seven will build its own WiMax network across Perth represents a major step in the network's long-term content strategy. That strategy began last year with Seven's Unwired acquisition, and has gained currency as IPTV gains momentum.

(Credit: Seven)

Rivals may have to wait until the NBN becomes widespread — or until they can access the 700MHz spectrum that will be freed up when analog TV goes dark in 2013 — before they can start broadcasting using IPTV in anger. Seven's privileged access to WiMax spectrum means it can get a valuable head-start. Its experiments in Perth (through subsidiary Vivid Wireless, which presumably has no relation with US adult entertainment giant Vivid Entertainment) will therefore be closely watched by both the internet and broadcast industry as Seven becomes the first network to seriously match online content with the actual delivery of internet services.

Wholesale costs removed, Seven can build a striated service offering ranging from basic Internet access and mobile broadband, to video services with unmetered Seven and third-party content.

The fact that Seven can directly service its customers without relying on Telstra's ADSL services is a significant one: wholesale costs removed, Seven can build a striated service offering ranging from basic internet access and mobile broadband, to video services with unmetered Seven and third-party content such as Foxtel, in which it recently bought a significant interest. Plug a Freeview PVR or TiVo into the WiMax modem and Seven can instantly deliver streaming digital TV and video-on-demand services anywhere across its network. Add VoIP services and you've got an instant triple-play service with no intermediaries. Replicate this in other metropolitan areas in the long term, and you've got a serious contender for cabled and fibre-optic pay TV services.

WiMax has already been shown to work fine in other countries, and a major roll-out in the US is steadily peppering major cities with bandwidth. In Australia, however, WiMax got a bad name after an ill-considered roll-out by Hervey Bay ISP Buzz Broadband and a FUD campaign by carriers favouring the rival 3G broadband technology in which they had invested.

Labor's decision to stop the OPEL WiMax contract was a very large coffin nail for the technology, and even a successful roll-out in South Australia has failed to ignite the country's imagination. (Two recent ZDNet Australia podcasts #1 and #2 caught up with WiMax's footprint in this country).

It hasn't taken long, however, for 3G to be exposed as being woefully under-prepared for the demands that triple-play services put on it. All mobile carriers offer 3G broadband services, and none of them can provide more than a few megabits per second despite claims of 7.2Mbps, 21Mbps or more in the future — and that's in best-case scenarios. Repeated outages on the Optus network and an 11-hour outage that hit Vodafone's Perth network this week illustrate the high-wire balancing act 3G has forced the carriers to pull off.

Factor in inevitable interference, attenuation, latency, congestion and handover overheads, and few 3G services are actually delivering even 1Mbps. So while it's fast enough to support delivery of short mobile-sized and mobile-quality video clips (even Telstra's Mobile Foxtel isn't live), 3G just isn't up to the kind of continuous, high-bandwidth usage that Seven's network will enable.

It hasn't taken long for 3G to be exposed as being woefully under-prepared for the demands that triple-play services put on it.

In theory, that is. Because any large-scale roll-out like this is fraught with potential pitfalls. Unwired has already tried and failed to compete against the mobile giants before, suffering the same fate as one-time broadband innovator iBurst, whose proprietary network was shut down last October.

This time around, though, Seven has more tools at its disposal. Its involvement with TiVo and FreeView has provided new conduits for fresh content, while WiMax will provide the crucial last-mile connection. The choice of Perth is an excellent one, since its size and total geographic isolation makes it an ideal testbed for large-scale carriage-and-service deployment.

Taken together, WiMax offers an important new direction for Seven as it and its free-to-air competitors struggle to adapt to the on-demand online broadcast industry. Nine, Ten, ABC and SBS remain beholden to their ISP partners and whatever bandwidth they can eke out of widely variable ADSL services. And while they wait for comparable fibre or wireless spectrum, Seven can serve its customers in whatever way it wants.

Would you buy internet and content services from Seven (via Vivid)? Would your decision be based only on price, or do you see value in the types of novel content bundles Seven could offer?

Topics: Telcos, Networking, Optus, Telstra, Wi-Fi


Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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  • Bring it on!

    I'm in Perth and best DSL i can get is 1.5Mb/256k with far from good download plans .... I certainly look forward to another competitive technology, even if it simply makes the other ISPs sweeten their plans a little.
  • wimax chips

    Wonder whose wimax chips will power the PCs, laptops and hand held devices in down under??
    Clearwire and Sprint in the US use chips and so also UQ Communications in Japan.
  • As big a success as Tivo

    Building something is one thing. Seven have got to show they can operate and get customers. I don't think they have the experience to do that. Look at TiVo.
  • Network Builder

    First mistake they have made is the choice of vendor to build it - Huawei. They have clearly chosen them on price, not quality.
  • NBN and Wimax/LTE

    NBN does not need to wait until 2013 as LTE can be operated in the 2.3GHz band used for WIMAX currently owned by Unwired and Austar. NBN can even consider starting with WIMAX now and converting to LTE when more mature product is on offer
  • iBurst and Unwired failed to increase speeds

    even though they indicated that they were going to. I think people then rightly assumed that they were dead end technologies.

    We are on Telstra's 21Mbps and we get real speeds often up to 7Mbps (sometimes even 10) download and 3Mbps upload (more than double the competitions' download speeds).
  • Damn clipped subject lines

    Failed to INCREASE SPEEDS.
  • It's Amazing!

    Fantastic! One's working, now we have only about 12 million connections left. I wonder how fast it'll be when there's one thousand connections going at the same time in your perfect area? Maybe 100Kbs/sec or less.

    At this point you'd be either a Telstra-paid manipulator of twaddle or the only one getting that speed in Oz.
  • WiMAX Always Looked the Goods

    Even though the silly woman who ran this arena for the Libs had no knowledge of what she was talking about when it came to wireless, I believe that WiMAX was always the way to go. Unfortunately the powers that be within the Labor party haven't seen that light & have damned us all to another cable underground, albeit a fibre-optic one which of course has a much higher potential than WiMAX or anything else probably.

    Whilst that sounds great, I don't believe it to be a particularly realistic choice being that we can't even afford our current infrastructure of roads & power supply so how the hell will we afford a new addition?

    I hope we can.
  • A good point

    Although some might argue that TiVo would have done better if it were here 5 years ago and offered some differentiator against the other options now on the market. They are, to be fair, working on it.

    But Seven is certainly putting its own pieces together quickly too. Will be interesting. Unless Seven blows the opportunity due to the "operate and get customers" bit. Hmmmm. Would you subscribe to your FTA provider's service to get more value-add than FTA alone can provide?