Thursday, November 02, 2006

I've got WiMax!

Today, my WiMax connection arrived: I now have a 4Mbit/s duplex wireless broadband link, uncontended, beamed 6.5km from central London. The people at Urban WiMax offered a free trial earlier this year (it's commercial contracts only now) and liked the idea of having a journalist on their books. There's more about them in the FT (subscription required).

Urban WiMax has been offering 4 to 10 Mbit/s full duplex, using WiMax links in the light-licensed 5.8GHz spectrum or in 4.9 GHz under a trial arrangement.

Mine's in 4.9GHz, using an Airspan CPE antenna and a security gateway box from Billion (not heard of them before).

The sales director at Urban Wimax, Colin Flynn, says they now have meshed base stations on several London hotels, and paying customers including churches and content providers.

I love the name "Urban Wimax". Wasn't this originally a technology for rural areas, where the wires wouldn't reach? Surely there's so much fibre and cable in town we don't need it here? Nope, says Flynn. One of his London customers came to him because they couldn't get DSL despite being only a kilometre from the exchange. The cable run was effectively more like seven km.

I would have expected users to hesitate over the reliability of wireless links, but Flynn says they don't - largely because the competition is useless: "We're in an environment where people expect poor service from the wired providers." At a consumer level, he's certainly right: I've had issues with my provider. It's working OK now, but I don't know anyone who really trusts their provider.

Some of the customers take WiMax as a back-up, and then switch over to use it as their main link, he says.

He's also not worried about competition from Pipex. The presence of a big, well-known brand, has kick-started a lot of interest, he says.

The installation was painless: a half-hour signal test on Monday, and a two-hour visit today, during which time Marcel and James from Urban Wimax screwed an antenna on a bracket to my house, and ran a cable inside.

I'm a bit outside their normal catchment area (as well as their normal business demographic). They found the signal easily though, pointing the antenna through a gap between the neighbours' roofs.
I'll take better pictures, but in this one, you can see the clump of buildings it's aimed at.

My antenna is pointed at the pale building indicated by a tiny red arrow.

You can also just see the Post Office Tower you can see next to the chimney. Ready for BT to make its big WiMax play someday?


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