Our WiMAX future

Windows Middle East catches up with Intel MEA’s regional manager for government affairs, Abdul Rahman Jarrar, to find out when ‘broadband on the go’, driven by WiMAX, might become a viable method of logging on for users in the Middle East.

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By  Matthew Wade Published  February 6, 2007

|~|Wimax-intel-feat---main.gif|~|"From a trend perspective, we see WiMAX as complementary to existing technologies like 3G and GSM," says Intel's Abdul Rahman Jarrar.|~|WINDOWS: What do you imagine will be the key trends during 2007?

Rahman: “Last year we saw an interesting transformation in the connectivity world, with more and more devices going online; things like handhelds and smaller form factors obviously in addition to your typical notebook device. We’ve seen that trend begin and we think this is the beginning of a longer, hopefully broader adoption of what we call ‘broadband on the go’.

“The other thing we’re seeing is the creation of content and the definition of technology by end users; the ‘YouTube phenomenon’. One of the things we demonstrated when Craig Barrett was in Dubai recently was Dar Al Rasm Al-Othmani’s forthcoming ‘e-Koran’, in the form of a small form factor touch-screen PC. This was developed because of a requirement by the end users. Of course the content is also very relevant to the population.

WINDOWS: Intel is working with governments, regulators and telcos to push WiMAX. What stage is this WiMAX development at right now?

Rahman: “WiMAX is an industry initiative driven by the WiMAX Forum, a body with 380 members, from regulators and device manufacturers to operators and everyone else involved. What this tells you is that it’s really an industry-driven technology and that’s what will ensure its success. We have been working closely with many of the governments in the region to, first of all, create a proper licensing framework or policy around WiMAX. As with any wireless technology, you need to have the proper regulations around it and the licensing policies have to be in place. This sound framework has been a key priority of ours over the past year.”

WINDOWS: You mean in terms of who can offer WiMAX and to whom?

Rahman: “Exactly. It’s about aligning spectrums with the rest of the world; that’s one of the advantages we bring to the table - our knowledge and expertise. We also help the industry to deploy ‘proof of concept’ or trial deployments, such as that in Thalia Street, Riyadh and recently in Oseem village in Egypt, which is kind of a concept pilot.

“Thalia Street is the main downtown strip in Riyadh, where WiMAX will be launching properly soon. There we set-up WiMAX on that street, covering several kilometers, so that everyone from end users walking or sipping coffee to merchants can use this. Today this type of trial is free access, however as the technology and the deployment matures then operators will deploy commercial solutions.

“In Oseem Village we put WiMAX in this small village, outside of Cairo, last December. You don’t just want to provide connectivity though, because if people don’t have devices, and the content and usage model isn’t there, then the connectivity itself isn’t really that attractive. It’s a means of enabling people to use technology to accomplish their goals. We’ve enabled a couple of schools with what we call ‘class-made PCs’ - education-tailored solutions defined by the users rather than us - and we’ve set-up an e-government kiosk for government services, so people can process their transactions there rather than having to suffer the traffic in Cairo. The third part we added was a mobile healthcare unit.

“From a trend perspective, we see WiMAX as complementary to existing technologies like 3G and GSM etc. The ultimate goal is that at any given place an end user - you and I - can open their notebook and connect at the most cost-effective rate.”

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“Testing, testing...”
Intel’s WiMAX trials in the Middle East to date:

• Intel Saudi Arabia office (ongoing)
• Tahlia Street, Riyadh (ongoing)
• Oseem village, Egypt (ongoing)
• Bahrain F1 Grand Prix 2006 (one weekend)
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WINDOWS: Is there a set duration for these WiMAX pilots you have running? When will they end?

Rahman: “We’ve built such a good relationship with the governments that in many of these cases they appreciate the trials so much, they’re allowing them to run for as long as we need, until a commercial company or operator comes in and says ‘Ok, we’ll take it over’. In Egypt for example, the pilot is for six months and we’ve been told already that we can extend that for free. These trials are really about showing, or expanding, what’s possible. Letting the community, government and private sector see what can be done with technology. This year we predict there’ll be several commercial deployments across the region, which should mean implementations like in Egypt becoming commercially viable.”

WINDOWS: Which commercial deployments do you expect to launch first?

Rahman: “It’s difficult to predict, but we are working with multiple operators in different countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey. It’s difficult to say because one place might suddenly accelerate more than another. In Egypt, Intel capital is invested with Orascom Telecom in a company to deploy WiMAX commercially. In Saudi Arabia, we’re in conversations with several operators to do either a nation-wide or regional deployment. Part of that will rely on how regulators structure the licensing. In some countries, they may issue regional licenses and others may choose national ones. We advocate the national license.”

WINDOWS: In terms of the end user, how do you define the difference between fixed and mobile WiMAX?

Rahman: “Fixed means you're in the same cell space, sitting at home, in the office or a coffee shop, mobile would mean you might be driving down Sheikh Sayed Road with a movie downloading and playing for my kids on a notebook in the back. WiMAX is complementary to WiFi. Let’s say there’s a rural area you want to connect. You can connect them using WiMAX and then, in a school say, you can use WiFi to cover that. Or you can use WiMAX to blanket the whole village. When your laptop has WiMAX, you just use it.”

WINDOWS: We talked about the fixed licensing situation, but what's the equivalent with regards mobile WiMAX?

Rahman: “Many of the regulators have been waiting for the ITU to work out their global policy, because that drives the global agenda. In Q4 last year, the WiMAX Forum gained ITU approval to include WiMAX mobile applications in what’s called IMT-2000 - this is what determines the licensing for 3G and similar technologies. So basically WiMAX is in the same boat as other technologies that provide broadband; what we call ‘technology neutral’.

“We now want to see a regulator say: ‘ operator, you can take this spectrum, and you choose which technology to deploy based on your business needs’. Then if the operator thinks that WiMAX satisfies what they’re looking for most, then they can deploy WiMAX, or 3G etc.

“On the mobile side, now that the ITU has allowed WiMAX to be part of this spectrum of mobile technologies, we anticipate that in the first half of this year regulators will start to work on that and build a framework for mobile WiMAX.”

WINDOWS: How long before mobile WiMAX will be rolled out in here in the Middle East?

Rahman: “I believe that by the end of this year, 2007, we should see a couple of commercial deployments in this region.”

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WiMAX defined
The WiMAX Forum was formed in June 2001 with the aim of promoting conformance and interoperability of the IEEE 802.16 standard.

The Forum describes WiMAX - which stands for ‘Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access’ - as “a standards-based technology enabling the delivery of last mile wireless broadband access as an alternative to cable and DSL”. Two versions of the 802.16 standard exist: 802.16-2004, which supports fixed access and for which products are already available, and 802.16e, which supports truly mobile ‘broadband on the go’, with mobile products expected this year.

As explained on www.WiMAXForum.org, “In a typical cell radius deployment of three to ten kilometers, WiMAX Forum Certified systems can be expected to deliver capacity of up to 40 Mbps per channel, for fixed and portable access applications. This is enough bandwidth to simultaneously support hundreds of businesses with T-1 speed connectivity and thousands of residences with DSL speed connectivity. Mobile network deployments are expected to provide up to 15 Mbps of capacity within a typical cell radius deployment of up to three kilometers.”

As Paul Senior of Airspan in the US puts it, “Mobile WiMax can eventually be sold to virtually everyone on the planet, while fixed WiMax is about filling in the gaps in DSL coverage.”
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