WiMAXstands for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access. It is an emerging telecommunications delivery platform that can provide high-speed mobile wireless data over long distances for highly data-intensive applications -- a sort of super Wi-Fi. These characteristics have generated a great deal of commercial interest in the service as a potential alternative to cable and DSL for the “last mile.” (The “last mile” is the final leg of delivering connectivity from a communications provider to a customer, an expensive and challenging component of data delivery infrastructure.)
WiMax has the potential to overcome “last mile” infrastructure challenges, and also enable high-speed delivery of data to remote locations.
WiMAX can provide maximum speeds of 75 megabits per second (mbps), shared by a number of users connecting to an access point. Companies like Motorola are already achieving 20 mbps at local pilot sites, which is twice the speed of other broadband wireless data technologies. (3G technology , for example, achieves speeds of 5-10 megabits per second.) WiMax is also much cheaper to establish and maintain than GSM cellular infrastructure.
A number of companies are backing WiMax technology, among them Alcatel-Lucent, Motorola, Samsung Electronics, Nokia and smaller companies like Alvarion of Israel. Intel will also play a large part in ensuring the future of WiMax, in the same way it accelerated the adoption of Wi-Fi with its Centrino laptop chips. Intel is currently developing chips for laptops and networks that will allow access to WiMax, which is due to enter the consumer market in 2008.
However, most telcos have invested heavily in 3G technology networks, and they may well be reluctant to spend a lot of money on WiMax. The technology is yet to be commonly implemented, even in developed countries. But WiMax has its place in developing markets, where fixed-line phones are non-existent and cellphone networks are more primitive. DSL is extremely limited n Africa, and African countries do not have the resources to start laying fiber cables, especially when there is an alternative technology that may offer superior services for smaller investments.
WiMax in Africa
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has predicted that the Intel-backed WiMAX system could become the dominant mobile standard in Africa. According to the ITU, WiMAX networks are currently being employed in nine countries in Africa, including South Africa, Uganda, Nigeria and Ghana.
An OECD report looked at the overall prospects for WiMAX, given that the technology is widely touted as one to that could beat both Wi-fi and third-generation mobile networks. Setting up a nationwide WiMAX network in the US was likely to cost in excess of $3 billion and third-generation mobile operators have invested heavily in new networks. They are more likely to upgrade their existing networks with technologies such as High Speed Downlink Packet Access. Africa’s advantage is that this investment has yet to occur; Africa could potentially leapfrog DSL / Cable / GSM and go straight to mobile WiMAX networks, which can deliver high-speed long-distance broadband data and voice services. WiMAX could then drive cheaper connectivity in Africa.
There is a shortage of fibre cable links between African countries, and very few states have extensive copper wire networks for ADSL broadband. The continent's geography and political barriers have made it difficult to roll out wired broadband. Over the past three years, deregulation and telcommunication prioritization initiatives by New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) have encouraged competing service providers to enter the market. WiMAX will bring the standardization's low cost advantages and allow new entrants and incumbent local exchange carriers to compete and construct viable business cases in addressing residential and business customers.
One of the major challenges faced by African operators is the ability to build a viable business case, given the low-income populations. There is, however, an opportunity to provide broadband to businesses and high-end users in the short-term. For broader adoption to take place, a “prepaid” retail model, similar to those used for mobile phone services, would need to be implemented to control bad debts.
WiMAX is much cheaper to establish and maintain than GSM cellular infrastructure.
GSM base stations require a power supply and air conditioning, and need to be sheltered from the rain
WiMAX consists of a box that is not much bigger than a laptop computer, and can be mounted on a pole or a building
A single WiMAX access point can be used to service an entire community
It is more efficient in its use of radio spectrum, as many more users can be on the same amount of spectrum
WiMax uses little power and can even run off a battery
Solar power has potential where it is difficult to access power from a grid
Cost-effective voice-over-IP is possible
WiMAX extends up to 50km from a single base station, at speeds of up to 70MB a second. It is independent of the wired infrastructure
WiMAX lets users work on the move, rather than tying them to a fixed line
Currently, there is no chip that allows users to move between spectrums, nor from WiMax to GSM
Mobile operators are looking at how WiMAX can coexist with GSM. If this happens, users will be able to move between the two and carry on working or speaking on the phone
The differences in frequencies available within WiMax technology and different wireless broadband technologies pose a major dilemma for equipment manufacturers
WiMax-enabled chips are needed to enable users to roam across the different spectrums that are being used to deliver the service
All wireless speeds depend on the proximity of the user to the base station. Operators are limited in the number of base stations they can erect by environmental issues
The market has an urgent need for a flat-rate voice and Internet access service. This can be delivered to customers in business and rural areas using WiMAX
For the first time there has been a huge step forward with a technology to address last-mile broadband connectivity.
It has the potential to make Internet connectivity a reality in rural areas
WiMAX will also be useful in cities for applications including traffic control and emergency services, and for high-speed Internet access for tourists with a laptop
WiMAX the potential to be the first wireless technology to replace wired infrastructure
WiMax can take voice, data and broadcast services into areas with no fixed network
Broadband wireless networks could prove invaluable in emerging markets where many areas are not served by traditional networks
WiMax could open up new geographic areas for areas for telecommunications organizations by filling the gaps in fixed-line network
Voice-over-WiMax offers the possibility of offering telecommunications services other than data, enabling more competition and thus better pricing for consumers
Computer literacy is still very low in Africa
It is difficult to build a decent business case for implementing WiMax networks with a low-income population base
High levels of poverty means that ant telecommunication services are out of the reach of most Africans, even if WiMax is cheaper
Security of infrastructure
Theft of copper wire has been a major problem associated with the roll-out of traditional telecommunications delivery. There is no reason to think that new technology roll-outs would be immune
Wireless phone networks are evolving quickly and have relative ubiquity of coverage when compared to WiMax
Wireless data technology called EV-DO, already in use on wireless phone networks, is predicted to have future speeds as fast as 15 to 20 megabits per second.
Mobile Phone Customers
Available data show that by the end of 2006 there were 5.2 million mobile phone customers, representing 25% of the population. Only a very small number of Ghanaians are Internet broadband customers – according to the National Communciations Authority (NCA), as of March 31st 2006 there were only 3,620 Internet broadband customers, which represents a mere 0.016% of the population
Broadband Internet Customers
Ghana has experienced a 1,932.7 % rate of increase in Internet usage between 2000 and 2007. As of 2007, 2.8 % of the population use the Internet. In mid-2006 a nationwide roll-out of WiMAX was announced for Ghana, starting with the capital city of Accra. Backers hope that the roll-out hwill be the first ever nationwide deployment. High consumer demand, coupled with poor DSL access and long customer connections, meant that Ghana was ripe for mass market, rapid install, of broadband wireless services. Mobile WiMAX has the advantage of the ability to be deployed in areas that haven't been built out with existing broadband and telecommunications infrastructure such as DSL and cable broadband. Internet Ghana, a leading Internet and data service provider, will deploy the nationwide network. Market testing started in Accra, with Internet Ghana offering a weekend of free access to existing subscribers of its current mobile wireless broadband product in July 2007.
WiMax in Democratic Republic of Congo
Microcom is the leading Wireless Internet Access service provider in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DMR). The company has been offering a Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) service for a number of years, but in April 2005 it announced the roll-out of WiMAX-ready equipment to provide high-speed data services to corporate and residential customers in the city of Kinshasa. The president of Microcom, Mr. Leon Ntale, explains that the move to WiMAX wireless broadband is the most cost-effective means of providing high-speed data to customers in Kinshasa. Kinshasa has approximately 8 million inhabitants and little wired infrastructure. WiMAX enables wider coverage, higher data speeds for Internet access and VoIP, and other services which were not possible with the previous network. The first deployments will be in areas where connectivity has proved to be extremely difficult due to the non-line-of-sight conditions.
As at September 2007 1.9% of the DMR population were Internet users. This represents a growth rate of 13,900.0 % since 2007.