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News summary for 9/26/07

Wed, 09/26/2007 - 9:05am
CED staff

WiMAX roundup: WiMAX on the verge of commercialization
By Brian Santo

Product introductions and demonstrations at the 2007 WiMAX World USA Conference & Exposition, running through tomorrow (Sept. 27), indicate that WiMAX is developing apace.

Despite news of at least one new WiMAX deployment and impending WiMAX consumer equipment, there are still preparations to be made to make sure that WiMAX becomes successful.

Aperto Networks said SkyTelecom will use Aperto base stations and subscriber units to launch WiMAX voice and data services to both businesses and consumers in Laos. The initial deployment is taking place in the city of Vientiane, followed in October by a commercial trial.

Texas Instruments just introduced a WiMAX Forum compliant 802.16e Wave 2 software and development tools platform, suggesting that there’s still plenty of room in the market for more OEMs who might want to make WiMAX equipment. TI’s tools include an evaluation module (EVM) based on the company's digital signal processors.

Alcatel-Lucent and Kyocera Wireless announced they are working to combine the former’s WiMAX infrastructure with the latter’s wireless devices into an end-to-end broadband network. Kyocera’s devices for WiMAX networking will include multimode mobile phones, non-traditional wireless devices, wireless PC cards and USB devices for PCs.

At the same time, Alcatel-Lucent said it has expanded its interoperability testing (IOT) efforts with WiMAX ringleader Intel to similarly ensure the compatibility of its WiMAX infrastructure with devices built around Intel's fixed/mobile WiMAX silicon (the Connection 2250) and Intel’s WiMAX MIMO-capable chipset for mobile devices. The two have been formally collaborating on WiMAX since 2004.

Devices based upon Intel's WiMAX chipsets are expected to be made available for fixed and nomadic services before the end of 2007, and for mobile services in 2008.

Motorola demonstrated live handoffs of sessions between WiMAX cells during a boat cruise on, and car journeys (at speeds up to 50 MPH) along, the Chicago River. The demo highlighted one of the advantages of mobile WiMAX – the ability to keep a connection even in a moving vehicle.

Sprint Nextel is building a WiMAX network using Motorola equipment. The service will be called Xohm (the X is pronounced like a Z, and the word rhymes with “foam”). Xohm CTO and President Barry West said, “We are on schedule to begin Xohm pre-commercial service in Chicago by the end of 2007, with commercial service planned in that and other markets beginning April 2008.”

Meanwhile, Trango Broadband Wireless added to its licensed microwave point-to-point product line a new wireless backhaul product, TrangoLINK Giga 6, which operates in the licensed 6 GHz microwave spectrum and was developed to deliver high-capacity IP connectivity for wireless Internet service provider (WISP) backbones, WiMAX networks, cellular backhaul, enterprise connectivity, broadcast and municipal applications as well as other mobile and fixed wireless networks.

8x8 will house 12,000 orphaned VoIP subs
By Traci Patterson

8x8 Inc. - which provides Packet8 residential, business and video VoIP services - said it will take in the 12,000 subscribers of an unnamed service provider “that will soon exit the VoIP market.”

8x8 will be the only brand presented and promoted to the orphaned subscribers as the company winds down its VoIP operations throughout the next three months, 8x8 said. The No. 2 standalone VoIP service provider will offer the new subs a marked-down monthly service plan, as well as a free month of service, free activation, free shipping and a free cordless phone.

Standalone VoIP providers haven’t fared well lately. About two months ago, SunRocket closed its VoIP doors and referred its 200,000 customers to Packet8. And Vonage, on top of its legal woes with Sprint and Verizon, saw its stock close at an all-time-low price yesterday: $1.30 a share.

Juniper Networks upgrades Carrier Ethernet platform
By Mike Robuck

Juniper Networks announced earlier this week that it had expanded its Carrier Ethernet portfolio with new platforms, system hardware, and software enhancements.

Cable and telco operators have embraced Carrier Ethernet services whole-heartedly over the past few years, which means vendors are coming up with improved platforms. Juniper’s expanded platform is designed to enable the efficient and cost-effective deployment of Ethernet networks and services.

Specifically, Juniper added the MX240 and MX480 Services Routers, and also announced a new suite of Dense Port Concentrator (DPC) cards for the MX product series.

“The MX240 and 480 extend the high-performance and capacity of the MX960 to compact form factors that fit a broad range of applications,” said Raj Patel, vice president of network, system and storage engineering at Yahoo!, in a prepared statement. “We are pleased to see Juniper expanding its MX-series portfolio with this announcement.”

The MX-series leverages JUNOS software as its operating system, which Juniper said now delivers many scalable Virtual Private LAN Service (VPLS) innovations and new Layer 2 operations, administration and management (OAM) capabilities and features, in addition to full Layer 2 switching. 

The MX240 and MX480 can simultaneously support up to 120 and 240 Gigabit Ethernet interfaces, respectively, and both platforms scale to support over 1 million MAC addresses.

Will Wi-Fi connect in L.A.?
Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times
James S. Granelli, Los Angeles Times

During the last six months, the prospects for delivering free high-speed wireless Internet service throughout metropolitan areas went from a sure bet to a sucker bet.

Even as Los Angeles explores building a free or low-cost citywide Wi-Fi system, cities such as San Francisco, Chicago and Houston are delaying or pulling the plug on similar plans.

The catalyst for the sudden retrenchment came last month when Internet service provider EarthLink Inc., the nation's largest builder of municipal Wi-Fi networks, said it was halting work on such projects and bailing out of some contracts as part of a massive corporate restructuring.

The Atlanta company plans to complete construction in Anaheim and Philadelphia, the nation's first major city to embrace broadband wireless, and operate those and a few other existing locations.

But EarthLink is stopping all new projects until it figures out a way to make money.
Offering wireless Internet service for free is a business model that is "simply unworkable," EarthLink Chief Executive Rolla Huff said.

"None of this should be a surprise," Craig Moffett, a cable TV industry analyst, wrote in a recent report.

"Free may be hard to compete with, but it's also a tough way to make any money."

But don't expect cities to pull out completely, industry analysts said.

With more Wi-Fi products coming on the scene -- such as T-Mobile USA's Wi-Fi cellphones and Apple Inc.'s iPhone and new iPod Touch -- demand for citywide wireless broadband connections should grow. Wi-Fi networks are much faster, more efficient and cheaper to build and operate than cellular systems.

"We've gone from one end of the hype meter to the other," said Craig Settles, an Oakland-based author and communications industry consultant. "We'll balance this out sooner or later."

Los Angeles may well become the city to watch as it goes through a laborious process to determine whether a wireless broadband network is needed -- and how the service would pay for itself.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa outlined plans in February to blanket Los Angeles with wireless Internet access that people could use for free or for a small monthly subscription.

The city's Information Technology Agency, which heads the Wi-Fi initiative, hired consulting firm Civitium in June to conduct a feasibility study.

The study, expected to be delivered to the mayor and the City Council in December, is being built on information from meetings with schools, hospitals, businesses, consumer groups, focus groups and other city agencies.

The agency is holding a public hearing about the initiative tonight at the Van Nuys Civic Center and another Thursday night at the DWP headquarters in downtown L.A. Both are at 6:30.

Civitium also is taking stock of the city's assets, including buildings, towers, light poles and other structures where wireless antennas could be installed. A key asset is 651 miles of fiber optic cable that could be used for important backhaul of Internet voice and data.

The firm also is trying to figure out how big a tenant the city might be on the network. Los Angeles could use wireless communications not only for emergency personnel but also for workers such as building code enforcers who can deliver reports from a work site rather than drive into an office. A wireless network also could link to cameras to help monitor traffic and remotely read utility and parking meters.

"So far, and we don't have all the results yet, it's looking like there's a need in public safety and in making the government more efficient," said Randi Levin, the city agency's general manager.

Levin said a wireless network would help the city get more information to residents and provide more self-service options for residents to deal with their local government.

Mark P. Wolf, the agency's assistant general manager running the daily research, said there was "definitely strong support" from small businesses, in particular, that can't get conventional land-line Internet service or are paying high prices. On its municipal projects, EarthLink typically charges about $22 a month for premium fast wireless service -- half the price charged by land-line providers for similar speeds.

A slower version designed for lower-income residents generally ranges from free to $10 a month.

"L.A. is in a good position to step back and see what the market is and see what assets they have and decide how to move forward," said Civitium senior partner Dianah Neff, a former Philadelphia technology executive who helped start that city's network.

Bridging the digital divide between those who can afford cable or phone connections and those who can't has long been a key argument in favor of muni wireless systems -- and for giving a level of service at no charge.

Los Angeles has made some progress already. Its 72 public libraries contain about 2,000 computers with Internet access as well as Wi-Fi hot spots for people with their own laptops. It also has free Wi-Fi service in Pershing Square downtown, Little Tokyo and the Van Nuys Civic Center.

But so-called digital inclusion initiatives are taking a back seat these days to the need for a wireless network, first of all, to make enough money to justify the cost.

Companies such as EarthLink and MetroFi Inc., which is helping AT&T Inc. build a system in Riverside, now want the cities they serve to be major customers.

Once a business model can justify a wireless network, city officials can decide whether to offer some level of Wi-Fi for free. Civitium's Neff said the feasibility study was using the data it was collecting to determine not only whether the city should get behind a Wi-Fi network but what business plan would ensure that it would be profitable for the company operating it.

"I do think that L.A. is taking the appropriate steps," said analyst Sally Cohen at industry consulting firm Forrester Research Inc. "They are heeding the lessons we have learned so far."

Cohen said a city doesn't have to be a major customer, but it must be invested somehow in a wireless broadband project to make it successful. For example, she said, the city of Dunedin, Fla., is not an anchor tenant but is very involved in promoting the service, such as sending mailings with utility bills.

Cities also can help find other major users, such as hospitals or big companies, and ease the process for getting right-of-way permits for wireless routers and other equipment.

In Los Angeles, Hollywood studios need to move massive files over short distances. They can't always get what they need from phone or cable companies, so wireless communications could be key to them, said Dean Hansell, president of the city's Board of Information Technology Commissioners, which oversees city technology work.

"It's probably more critical in Los Angeles than anywhere else," Hansell said.

With ever-newer technology coming out and city politics inevitably coming into play, L.A.'s wireless researchers figure there will be setbacks. But they're confident that, by waiting, they've learned from the problems other cities have faced.

"Our goal is not to be first," Hansell said.

Broadband Briefs for 9/26/07

* Level 3 expands its Business Partner Program
By Traci Patterson

Level 3 Communications’ Business Markets Group has added new components to its Business Partner Program: joint go-to-market planning, training, incentive programs and additional Web-based planning tools.

The additions are designed to aid Level 3’s partners in offering more complex services, such as Ethernet and IP-based VPN. Level 3’s Business Markets Group enables telecommunications agents and value-added resellers to sell the company’s fiber-based IP, data and voice communications services.

* Research and Markets adds quad-play to offering
By Traci Patterson

Research and Markets has added “quadruple-play bundling strategies” to its offering. “Quadruple plays have yet to prove their effectiveness,” the company said. “However, ultimately service providers will have no choice but to offer them in order to compete in the residential telecoms and media marketplace.”

* Proxilliant names Kraft director of North American sales
By Mike Robuck

Proxilliant Systems announced yesterday that Roy Kraft had joined the company as director of its North American sales. Kraft, a 28-year cable industry veteran, was previously with Tollgrade Communications.

“With the penetration of cable-based digital voice continually growing, data services requiring greater reliability and commercial services continually gaining in importance to MSOs, Proxilliant is currently supporting a fast-growing number of trials and deployments,” said Brent Levetan, Proxilliant’s VP of sales and business development, in a prepared statement. “Adding veteran executives like Roy Kraft will enable us to better assist cable operators as they work to improve the operation and reliability of their HFC networks for the ongoing delivery of these services.”

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