February 26, 2001, 12:53 PM — Waking from a year-long slumber and recently bursting free from some lingering technical and regulatory restrictions, fixed broadband wireless technology may soon be in a position to catch up with its Internet-access rivals: DSL and high-speed cable.
Fixed wireless, also known as MMDS (Multipoint Multichannel Distribution Services), flickered with promise a little more than a year ago -- especially when chief providers WorldCom Inc. and Sprint Corp. were in the throes of their heated run at a telecom megamerger. In fact, the technology was central to that merger's vision because it involved a grand plan to zip right past local phone and cable companies in the delivery of broadband services.
Fixed wireless makes use of the wireless spectrum for data transmission, shooting signals between carrier-owned base stations and transceivers affixed to customer sites within a 35-mile radius.
"But MMDS hasn't taken off yet. We've yet to see WorldCom and Sprint aggressively roll out markets," says Elliott Hamilton, an analyst at Washington-based Strategis Group. That may be about to change in a big way, Hamilton continues. "The technology itself is undergoing some changes to make it better."
A host of new vendors are trying to tackle MMDS' line-of-sight restrictions caused when buildings or terrain standing between towers and receivers interfere with the signal. This phenomenon has saddled fixed wireless technology with stringent requirements that receivers be in an almost direct line with towers.
Vyyo is one company working to make fixed wireless a formidable competitor of DSL and cable. The Cupertino, Calif.-based producer of wireless hubs, base stations, and wireless modems is working to incorporate technical advances that help get past the line-of-sight restrictions which have held down fixed wireless.
"But it is not just the line-of-sight issues per se," says John O'Connell, CEO of Vyyo. "For us to make this a viable business for service providers, the cost-per-subscriber rates have got to be within a range in which they can offer the service and still make money."
Advances in OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) technology being honed by Cisco and others also tackle line-of-sight issues. OFDM seeks to overcome line-of-sight, distance reach, subscriber coverage, and antenna size problems plaguing existing wireless systems.
On top of those advances, however, companies such as Vyyo are working to get the most out of the signal. "In order for [a particular user] not to use up too much of the available capacity, one must have good signal encoding when transmitting something," O'Connell says.