Wireless technology giant Intel is deploying a next-generation, broadband wireless technology to provide survivors of Hurricane Katrina and relief workers a link to loved ones and assistance via the Internet.
While WiFi hotspots — based on existing, popular 802.11 wireless technology — have a limited range of a few hundred feet, the more advanced WiMax wireless being heavily pushed by Intel can carry signals further and connect users at shelters and military bases to the Internet.
While some tech industry officials have opined that the devastated region is ripe for such a deployment, analysts pointed out that WiMax is not yet standardized, lacks existing gear and devices, and, ultimately, relies on the same wireline infrastructure to get users on the Web.
“It would help users if there were end-user equipment,” Ovum Vice President of Wireless Telecoms Roger Entner told TechNewsWorld. “There is no end-user equipment, and they haven’t even done the [WiMax] standard for mobility.”
Wider Wireless for Victims
Nevertheless, companies such as Intel — which has already coordinated the delivery of 1,500 laptops and equipment for 150 WiFi hotspots in the disaster stricken region — indicated that areas that have been stripped of nearly all infrastructure represent a good opportunity to put WiMax to work.
In addition, Intel officials have reportedly said the longer-range wireless technology — capable of carrying signals for miles rather than meters — is needed to provide useful Internet access to evacuees and those providing assistance at military bases and shelters.
Intel, largely credited with driving a wave of 802.11 wireless technology adoption among consumers and corporations, is pushing WiMax with initiatives to help cities around the world develop next-generation wireless coverage.
Lacking a Standard
Ovum’s Entner, however, observed that the WiMax effort may be premature, and may also represent manipulation of the devastating situation.
“I think it’s one of the options that Bell South should look at, but right here, right now, these guys haven’t even agreed on a mobility standard,” he said. “It should be in the context of rebuilding, not helping the people suffering from the hurricane,” he added.
While he praised the idea of scrapping the old system and starting fresh with a cutting-edge solution such as WiMax, Entner said the newer wireless technology was simply not yet ready.
“Somebody’s vision has gone way into overdrive,” he said. “Maybe if it was two or three years from now, it would be a really robust solution.”
Entner also said while existing WiFi technology could prove to be useful in command posts and possibly shelters for victims of the hurricane, the wireless technology ultimately depends on wired infrastructure to connect to the Internet.
“The problem with the disaster is, the infrastructure is destroyed. The last mile is destroyed,” he said. “It’s not as wireless as you want to have it. They need robust backhaul solutions.”
Entner added that wireless carriers — T-Mobile, Verizon, Cingular, Nextel and others — are in a better position to provide instant communications infrastructure in the impacted area, and are doing so.
IDC analyst Shiv Bakhshi said that while any effort to help the victims of the hurricane is good, the practicality of using WiMax was doubtful.
“I really don’t understand why somebody would think starting a new infrastructure now, in the midst of a crisis, rather than working on the existing infrastructure, is going to make much difference,” Bakhshi told TechNewsWorld.
The analyst, who also questioned what devices would be used with an immediate WiMax rollout, echoed Entner in pointing to the wireless phone companies as a more useful resource.
“Those guys are working their butts off to bring systems up,” he said.