Wireless Fidelity or wireless Hype? -Libera replies

by Robert Condon | posted on 02 July 2004

Robert Condon felt our earlier news report on his plans for broadband wireless didn't do his company justice. As founder of Libera, he's entitled to an answerback page, and here it is.

Many small companies are burning cash trying to turn WiFi into a business. Some like Cometa Networks Inc; a WiFi operator backed by AT&T, Intel and IBM shut down in May and more will doubtless follow. Boingo Wireless Inc and 'The Cloud', two operators of wireless hotspots who act as aggregators selling access to other companies will need deep pockets in order to survive as hotels and retailers start giving away WiFi access to lure customers. Best Western and Verizon already provide a free service to its customers.

WiFi is a technology; it's great as an office or campus communications network or LAN extension radiating an Internet connection to laptops over distances of 300 feet, but a stand-alone access business it is not.

Because WiFi operates in the unlicensed spectrum it is prone to co-channel interference - or clash, making it difficult to offer the quality of service that is expected by businesses. Only last week Nextband, a California based wireless broadband operator using the 5.8GHz non-licensed band admitted it was having problems with interference in built-up areas and this can only get worse the greater the uptake.

The real threat to WiFi is WiMAX, the new wireless standard being promoted by Intel. WiMAX, although at least two years away will provide ubiquitous connectivity for laptops, PDA's and the like.

One UK based company - the one I have just founded - might have found the answer. Libera - which means 'liberate' - has acquires large chunks of licensed spectrum serving over 60% of UK businesses (although we plan to expand to over 75%) in which the plans are to offer a wireless broadband service to rival BT's DSL.

As far as I'm concerned, BT's DSL service over copper may not be up to the job and there will be a broadband 'bottleneck' until it gets its new 'Century 21 network up and running in 2009. I would add that many of the new IP multimedia and communications services require guaranteed quality and security that DSL may not be able to provide, as demand for bandwidth grows. You only have to look at what's happening in the Far East in places like Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan where 10Mbit/s is the standard offering.

David Currie, Ofcom Chairman, said in his Keynote speech to the Communications Management Association Annual Conference:

"As a nation we have set ourselves a target for the roll-out of 'broadband' without having the physical infrastructure for a true broadband access network in place. We can stretch the Plain Old Telephone Services to being a mid-band network and DSL is that 'stretch' on copper wire, but true broadband it is not."

He added: "Our vision has to be that we have to get to 10Mbit/s ... the key point about the broadband inflection is that it doesn't have to be wires, it can be wireless too."

Libera will provide symmetrical bandwidth of between 2Mbit/s and 36Mbit/s for considerably less than the comparable BT copper and fibre circuits. The company plans to have phase one of its network up and running in central London spanning Heathrow to Dartford by October this year, with a full national roll out following close behind. The company claims that it is receiving serious enquiries from all the major carriers and ISP's for its Wireless Broadband service.

This article was a response to an earlier report on this site.

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