Motorola: WiMax Not Good for Backhaul

While WiMax can do voice, video, and data well, it is less effective when used for a single high-throughput application such as backhaul.

May 23, 2007

3 Min Read
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Countering conventional wisdom, Motorola WiMax head Thomas Mitoraj said Tuesday that WiMax will not be a suitable technology for backhauling traffic for wireless networks. Speaking at a broadband wireless panel at Interop, Mitoraj said that proprietary technologies -- such as Motorola's Canopy system, which uses point-to-point and point-to-multipoint connections running over the unlicensed U-NII spectrum -- work far better than WiMax for transmitting traffic back to wired nodes.

"We learned a lot about mesh backhaul" in deploying early municipal Wi-Fi networks, said Mitoraj, director of Motorola's WiMax efforts for the Americas, "and what we found is that backhaul is very tough. WiMax is unsuitable as a backhaul solution."

The reason, Mitoraj asserted, is that while WiMax was "built to do everything well," including diverse applications such as voice, video, and data, it is less effective when used for a single high-throughput application such as backhaul.

This is directly contrary to the viewpoint of many companies in the emerging WiMax market, who see the broadband-wireless technology as ideal for both wide-area access networks in rural areas, particularly in the developing world, and for backhaul. Sprint Nextel, for instance, which is building a nationwide WiMax access network, plans to use the system for backhauling traffic from its cellular networks as well.

"Alternative backhaul is important to us," Ali Afrashteh, VP of access technologies for Sprint Nextel, said at a telecommunications conference in New York City last fall. Sprint plans to replace some 10% to 20% of its current backhaul networks, most of which run over T1 lines, with WiMax connections by the end of 2008.Also disagreeing with Mitoraj was George Manuelian, chief architect for service exchange framework at Cisco Systems, who said that in many markets mesh Wi-Fi systems will have little choice but to use WiMax as a backhaul technology to carry traffic to fiber-optic gateways. "It's hard to get wires everywhere" to provide backhaul for new wireless networks, Manuelian said.

Motorola last year acquired a startup company called Orthogon Systems, a provider of fixed point-to-point wireless systems in the 5.8-GHz frequency band, largely to beef up its backhaul portfolio.

If Mitoraj is right, and WiMax proves ineffective for wireless backhaul, it could delay the spread of WiMax systems because devices and services for such networks are not expected to be available for two to three years at the earliest. The success of WiMax depends on finding such early applications and on the availability of WiMax-enabled laptops and handsets, the panelists agreed.

"WiMax will fail without dual-mode devices" that work over existing cellular networks or Wi-Fi systems plus WiMax, Mitoraj stated.

That will require the major U.S. carriers, who to date have focused on preserving their existing cellular business at the expense of newer wireless technologies, to open up their handsets and networks to WiMax."If the carriers decide they can make money at it, they won't be a barrier" to the spread of wireless broadband networks, said Manuelian. Emerging network technologies like WiMax, he said, have the potential to alter carriers' fundamental business models by eliminating the practice of subsidizing handsets.

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