Providing Outdoor "Hotzone" Coverage

Breaking down strategies for providing outdoor "hotzone" coverage areas for wireless data.

Dave Molta

March 12, 2004

3 Min Read
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That's not an unreasonable position, and the good folks at cellularchipmaker Qualcomm would no doubt offer a "here-here" in response.However, it's far from clear whether the alternative 2.5/3G dataservices, including CDMA-2000 EvDO (evolution data only) or GSM/EDGE,will provide either the performance or the capacity that usersdemand--particularly if mainstream applications evolve to includestreaming media, which they surely will if carriers have their way increating a mass market for this service. In addition, I'm not sure howmany people can afford these services.

One of my colleagues, Sean Ginevan, recently did some testing withVerizon Wireless' new EvDO data service, which the company is currentlyoffering in Washington, DC, and San Diego and plans to roll outnationwide. Sean liked the new EvDO service. During his limited testing,he averaged about 420 Kbps compared to about 120 Kbps for Verizon's1XRTT network. In addition, latency between DC and our Syracuse lab wasunder 200 milliseconds. That was high enough to cause some irritatingdelays when running a Terminal Services connection to one of the labservers (remote presentation applications are notoriously intolerant ofhigh latency connections), but not so high that it wasn't functional.Still, throughput is only about 10 percent of Wi-Fi on a bad day. Inaddition, Sean experienced significant delays--up to eight seconds--whenroaming between EvDO and 1XRTT networks.

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Verizon's EvDO data service is pretty pricey. The AirPrime 5220 networkcard will cost you $300, and the service is $79.99 per month forunlimited access. Give Verizon some credit for not pricing EvDO serviceshigher than the slower 1XRTT. Still, that's a significant cost if youare talking about equipping hundreds or thousands of employees. You canexpect to see similar high-speed offerings from the GSMproviders--T-Mobile and AT&T/Cingular--probably at about the same cost.

While Verizon's service is notable, it's unlikely that the traditionalcellular carriers will get to true broadband data any time soon.Although the EvDO service dedicates spectrum to data, the amount ofspectrum is limited, as is the spectral efficiency--the number of bitsper hertz--of the systems. More appealing alternatives are currently intrial by Flarion Technologies and IPWireless.

Flarion's partnership with Nextel is one of the industry's mostinteresting recent developments. The companies plan to deploy a testsystem in the Raleigh-Durham, NC, area. As soon as we heard about this,we volunteered Network Computing staff member Kevin Cooke as a betatester. Not so fast was the reply. But there were promises of putting amodem in Kevin's hands later this month. The Flarion system isphysically distinct from Motorola's iDen and future WiDen systems andpromises average downstream connection speeds of 1.5 Mbps with peakrates of 3 Mbps. Pricing has not been set, but it's reasonable to expectit to be in line with Verizon's EvDO. However, since Flarion offersspeeds comparable to DSL and cable modems, you could conceivably replacethose services with wireless broadband, something that probably isn'tviable with EvDO.

Like Flarion, IPWireless offers a high-speed wireless data service thatthe company claims is UMTS 3G compatible. Trials have been conducted ina number of countries, and the company is well financed. Also likeFlarion, IPWireless will likely struggle to garner industry mindshare,which is needed to push down equipment costs. Let's hope that bothFlarion and IPWireless enjoy success. The more choices, the better.

-- Dave Molta, [email protected]

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