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.
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 A delay of two and a half years in getting a technology into the market illustrates, really rather concisely, how out of date the worlds spectrum management policy making is.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.
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.
Where Canopy falls down is pretty simple. It allows a low-capital ISP to go into a territory where standard broadband isnt available and provide a 500K-bit link into houses and business premises. But then, it turns into an ordinary Ethernet socket and its up to the subscriber to decide whether to stick a wire or a wireless access point into the socket.
That, of course, is the real limitation of WiMax, too. Intels claim that it will work in portable devices is a fantasy. But its a fantasy that reflects what the market wants.
What we (users) require is not just to have access to our own broadband socket when we are at home; what we want is access in a wide area. Not just at my desk at work, but also in the meeting room over the block, in the hotel downtown and in the coffee store.
And the solution to this is a neighborhood mesh. Intel has offered several publicity papers on its R&D in mesh and has adopted a studiously stringent “Not Invented Here” approach to existing mesh technologies. Motorola has bought Mesh Networks.
For the moment, Motorola is saying that Mesh Networks technology is seen as a corporate solution. Indeed, it will work well like that, given the cost. And when you ask Motorola about rival, widely deployed and successful mesh systems such as LocustWorlds, marketing executives retreat into theoretical objections (which have been shown in the field to be irrelevant) about latency and bottlenecks.
But a mesh network with multiple backhaul systems is the way forward. A system with multiple distribution nodes—either Canopy or WiMax would do fine—and shared point-to-point parasitic networking for the wide area would allow me to do my column in the local pub, rather than here where the street repair gang is using a jackhammer and a stone saw, and driving me nuts.
And I wouldnt have to join five hot-spot providers to do it. It would be virtually free.
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