Friday, 29 February 2008 06:33

Huawei eyes Australian WiMAX market

China-based Huawei is trying to attract the attention of companies that have obtained licences for WiMAX spectrum in Australia.

A pair of shipping containers fitted out as a travelling showroom for Huawei's WiMAX equipment has been sitting at Sydney's Olympic Park so the company can demonstrate its capabilities to potential customers and the media.

The wireless access service node comes in two versions. One is designed to serve 10,000 subscribers (expandable to 3.5 million), the other for 50,000 (expandable to 10 million). This equipment supports functions including voice calls to and from the PSTN, multi-party vidoeconferences (up to 128 users per conference), video ringtones, TV, gaming, and more.

Huawei's base station equipment is very compact, comprising a 1U module plus a remote unit that's small and light enough to be mountable on the antenna tower. The remote unit requires just 300 watts of power, and does not require air conditioning - natural cooling is sufficient.

The company claims this design will deliver operators a 30 percent saving on the total cost of ownership.

Huawei has already sold WiMAX equipment in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, including wireless operators in Bulgaria, Russia and Saudi Arabia. 12 networks are already live, and as many as 30 more are in a "pre commercial" state with full deployment expected in the near future, said An Jian, director of Huawei's CDMA/WiMAX product marketing group for the Asia Pacific region.

At this stage most are offering wireless broadband rather than mobile broadband due to the scarcity of devices supporting full mobility.

Asia Pacific nations are "a little late" in issuing WiMAX licences, he suggested.

Huawei demonstrated a range of services running over WiMAX, including FTP, Web, streaming video, PC-based softphones, and videoconferencing, using a variety of equipment including a USB WiMAX dongle, a fixed WiMAX CPE unit (around the size of a set-top box), and IP videophones.

Another demo involved monitoring remote video feeds, as used for security and other purposes. While the setup involved a regular videocamera connected to a video server that transmitted the images across the network, standalone WiMAX cameras are likely to appear. WiMAX allows higher resolutions and/or framerates than 3G, and it will be used to transmit video feeds from boats in the Beijing Olympics sailing competition.

These services have different quality of service requirements, and Huawei's equipment implements all five QoS levels as specified by the WiMAX forum, allowing multiple services to run simultaneously and successfully over one connection.

An Jian said WiMAX would be a suitable technology for extending broadband access to parts of Australia that are currently outside the footprint of DSL and cable networks, but most operators are still investigating business models and are largely looking for someone to follow. He declined to say which Australian operators had visited the demonstration.

While Huawei thinks it has the systems that operators need, An Jian said that the existence of more than 100 WiMAX manufacturers will help to drive down the prices of consumer equipment, even though prices are already in "the range Australian people will accept. Terminals for WiBro (a Korean mobile broadband standard that is now part of WiMAX) are available for less than $US100, he said.

Like most people involved with WiMAX, An Jian is looking forward to Intel releasing a mobile chipset that includes WiMAX capability. Expected by the end of this year, this would reduce the marginal cost of getting WiMAX to effectively zero. "That will help the WiMAX industry a lot," he said.

Huawei has more than 1200 engineers working on WiMAX, and "will always focus on the carriers' requirements," he said.

The next stop for Huawei's roadshow will be Singapore, where the WiMAX Forum will be held in April.

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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