Mobile Wireless Deadlock

Opinion: What do we want? Broadband wireless access wherever we go. Motorola and Intel can't agree on how to get there. Why can't everyone just get along?

It comes as no surprise that Motorola launched Canopy, its next-generation high-speed wireless broadband system, in Europe 30 months after it first shipped in North America. What is remarkable is the fact that Motorola hasnt joined Intel on the WiMax bandwagon with Canopy.

Canopy has been delayed from European markets by spectrum regulations for reasons that go back a long way. European wireless authorities are very keen on two technologies that the American FCC hasnt been too hot on: Transmit Power Control and Dynamic Frequency Selection.

Most Canopy technologies are in the 5GHz bands, where European regulations (mostly) are strict. For example, its still technically illegal to use 802.11a at all in several European territories, and its definitely illegal to use it outdoors in France. Nobody is policing this in the license-free bands (and nobody could), but set up a high profile service and you might be denounced.

In licensed frequencies, you really do have to abide by the regulations.

The difference between the Motorola and Intel approach to this seems to be one of "public profile." Intel says that it believes WiMax will provide a mobile wireless technology that is a superior alternative to Wi-Fi in the 2.4GHz band that most of us now use for home wireless. Motorola, by contrast, is following the consensus of most other people in suggesting that WiMax is a good backhaul solution in the 3GHz and 5GHz bands, but dismissing it as a solution for mobile devices like PC notebooks.

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here for more on Intels interest in WiMax.

And yet, from one analysis, it would help Motorola to support Intels plans with WiMax. A delay of two and a half years in getting a technology into the market illustrates, really rather concisely, how out of date the worlds spectrum management policy making is.

Its long been a strand of this column to analyze Intels commitment to mobile WiMax and the still-undefined 802.16e standard as a ploy to undermine international regulations by whipping up support for multi-wireless technology.

/zimages/7/28571.gifRead what Guy Kewney had to say about Intel and international regulations.

The argument (for newcomers) is that the market now requires wireless to work in any part of the world. But the days where you could try to assign a single frequency spectrum for a single purpose in every geographic territory died when quad-band mobile phones appeared. What is needed today is the ability to switch frequencies but stick to a protocol.

In another decade, of course, this will have been achieved. With every household and business site infested with 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, central policing of spectrum becomes almost literally unthinkable and new social protocols will have to be developed.

Motorola sees this (as clearly as Intel does), and Canopy is one of its solutions. But Canopy doesnt attempt to portray itself as a universal technology, capable of being embedded in PDAs and mobile phones. Instead, its a point-to-point backhaul technology that uses spectrum very efficiently to reach individual premises with broadband where the only alternative would be satellite or leased-line connectivity. Both are expensive and unsatisfactory.

Next page: Where Canopy falls short.