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Geoff Daily

App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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July 30, 2007 12:58 PM

Down with Wireless, Long Live Wireless

There’s a big vote coming up at the FCC tomorrow regarding the upcoming auction of wireless spectrum.

You won’t find me writing much about wireless as I’m much more of a wireline kinda guy, but I wanted to share one important belief I have regarding this space.

One of my greatest frustrations in the debate around broadband deployment is the idea held by some that wireless is the answer to all of a community’s broadband needs. That some day everything will be wireless and we won’t have need for fiber.

That’s simply not the case, and it all comes down to one word: capacity.

The next big thing in wireless coming down the pipeline is WiMAX. Unlike Wi-Fi, which enables wireless broadband over small areas, like a coffee shop, WiMAX promises multi-megabit speeds over miles of coverage.

Let’s analyze this for a moment, though. WiMAX has promised to enable up to 70Mbps per antenna when it first launches. But how many people will that antenna be serving, especially in urban areas?

Wireless has been touted as the answer to the speedy deployment of broadband in rural areas, but like DSL its speed drops the further away a user is from the nearest tower, topping out around 30 miles.

In either scenario, what happens when 100 people are trying to stream high quality video using the same antenna? Even if we’re only talking about video encoded at 1Mbps, the numbers just don’t add up.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t be deploying wireless broadband, though. There’s no denying that it’s faster and cheaper to deploy than wireline, and it enables anywhere, anytime access to the Internet, which will be vital for encouraging the continuing development of Internet-enabled handheld devices.

In the near-term wireless broadband could serve as a viable competitive force relative to DSL or cable, and down the road the opening up of spectrum caused by the transition from analog to digital TV broadcasts will enable new levels of broadband service.

But in the end, only the capacity of wireline, and in particular fiber, technologies will be sufficient for a world where HD video is being pushed around the Internet in all directions.

So fiber vs. wireless is not an either/or equation. In my mind, the answer is quite simply yes to both.

As a final thought, wireless is not some magical technology that does away with the need for wireline because ultimately those wireless antennas need to connect to the Internet somehow, and more often than not that will be through fiber optics.

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