Thursday, February 18, 2010

Clearwire's Silicon Valley WiMAX Innovation Network

Sprint-Nextel CEO Dan Hesse has said that 2010 will be "the year of 4G". The wireless operator recently contributed an additional $1.176 billion to their majority-ownership of Clearwire, to support a plan to extend mobile WiMAX coverage to a total of 120 million POPs by the end of this year. (Along with Comcast's $196 million, Time Warner's $103 million, Intel's $50 million, Eagle River's $20 million and Bright House Networks' $19 million).

Verizon Wireless is also committed to cover 25-30 cities in 2010 with their new 4G LTE technology, which they demonstrated to analysts at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.
Verizon also held a developers conference at CES, as part of their Open Development initiative. Clearwire had previously launched an Innovation Network in Silicon Valley, allowing developers access to the pre-commercial WiMAX network covering Palo Alto, Santa Clara (Intel), and Mountain View (Google). Indeed, the U.S. has become the world's hotspot for 4G deployment.

On March 2, Silicon Valley developers will have the opportunity to participate in a Clear 4G Innovation Network Workshop at the Santa Clara Convention Center. The only catch is that you have to be able to join the Innovation Network, which requires purchase of a Clear WiMAX modem. Currently, there is a further restriction that the shipping address for the modem must also be in one of the few authorized zip codes that are covered by the network. (So much for mobility! Pretty ironic.. eh?).
Eleven base stations have been deployed to date.

At a recent meeting of the IEEE Santa Clara Valley Communications Society, Allen Flanagan – Manager, Silicon Valley Innovation Network and David Rees – Manager, Developer and Partner Enablement gave a presentation on features of the developer program and Clearwire's plans for an "Open Network for Open Devices". This is very similar to the theme of Verizon's LTE program - "Wirelessly Connect Anything", as well as AT&T's(3G) Emerging Devices program. While we've been hearing a lot of cries regarding a "spectrum crisis" lately, it's apparent that the incumbent wireless operators are putting major efforts into finding new ways to increase utilization of their data networks... because that's where the revenue growth is.

Both Verizon and Clearwire have talked about video applications as a prime target for their 4G networks. Clearwire is working with Sling Media on an application that can take advantage of the higher data rates available with WiMAX. That's an interesting contrast to AT&T, which finally relented
just a few weeks ago to allow the Sling iPhone app to run on their 3G network. Clearwire has stated a goal of delivering "truly differentiated video quality", which I expect to be realized in part from their alliance with Cisco that was announced in May of last year.

From the IEEE ComSoc presentation, it's apparent that Clearwire is putting a lot of emphasis on location-based applications. With Google as an early investor in Clearwire, it's perhaps not surprising to note that the Client/Server implementation matches the Google Geolocation API Network Protocol, supporting browser access through Google Gears. A server/server API will also be provided, enabling applications such as tracking.

Since we know that performance can definitely vary as one moves about in a mobile broadband network, Clearwire is wisely supporting adaptive applications and connection management through
Common API 1.2.1 (CAPI), stating that
Our goal is to expose knowledge about the network to applications and services so they can better optimize their usage of the network and improve the end-customer experience
The CAPI has been developed by the WiMAX industry to standardize access to session information, and is incorporated in Intel's WiMAX embedded laptops. Version 2.0 is under development, adding features such as sector hand-off notification.

In an interview at CES, Clearwire told me that they have no intention of departing from their unlimited data plans (in contrast to 5GB limits in competitors plans). To facilitate network management, they have implemented quality-of-service (QoS) features in their current network, according to the IEEE 802.16 specification. Clearwire is currently exercising QoS for fixed and mobile VoIP, and are planning to add dynamically triggered QoS. With 'net neutrality currently a hot topic in fixed and mobile broadband, Clearwire is in discussions with the FCC and other industry partners to determine the proper model for when QoS should be enabled.


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