MMDS Vendors Want to See Standards Set

Multipoint multichannel distribution service (MMDS), the wireless-cable spectrum, no longer has much to do with video service. But a move by six major players in that space could put some near-term pressure on MSOs.

Six technology suppliers-ADC Telecommunications Inc., Conexant Systems Inc., Gigabit Wireless Inc., Intel Corp., Nortel Networks Corp. and Vyyo Inc.-have banded together to form the Wireless DSL Consortium (WDC), dedicated to the creation and advancement of MMDS standards.

The WDC, announced last week at the Wireless Communications Association's trade show in New Orleans, will also be a forum for the testing and verification of standards-based products, like the cable industry's Cable Television Laboratories Inc.

Although its goal is a standard that includes non-line-of-sight technologies (NLOS), the WDC this year will implement an initial air interface based on CableLabs' Data Over Cable Service Specification (DOCSIS) standard.

By 2001, the consortium expects to release multicarrier technologies that support NLOS operation by using a smart antenna to increase system capacity and coverage. Line-of-sight problems are one of the key reasons why MMDS rollouts have lagged behind cable and digital-subscriber-line deployments.

Today, the MMDS market is relatively small. If NLOS solutions are implemented on a wide scale, however, the technology stands a good chance of upstaging its wireline brethren, including the cable modem.

MMDS is often cheaper and easier to deploy, as it does not require laying cable or upgrading existing installations.

A year ago, there were only 28,800 residential MMDS subscribers, compared to 1.4 million cable-modem customers, according to Gartner/Dataquest figures. Those numbers are projected to rise this year to 144,000 and 3.4 million, respectively.

With standards in place, MMDS could catch on quickly and outpace those predictions.

"Standards for wireless cable will make it a more viable technology more quickly," said Cynthia Brumfield, president of Broadband Intelligence, an industry research group. "The wireless-cable guys are being smart. In markets where MMDS is already strong, like Phoenix, there will be an increased competitive tension."

Earlier this month, Sprint Corp. rolled out MMDS services in the Tucson, Ariz., and WorldCom Inc. has also started commercial trials.

The consortium expects to invite other wireless-equipment and semiconductor companies to join. Service providers will also be courted to help define market requirements.

Carriers and analysts applauded the standards effort.

"There is tremendous value in the creation and adoption of open standard interfaces for the broadband wireless market," said Jonathan Mapes, chief technology officer at WorldCom Wireless Solutions. "Open standards are a critical maturation step for widespread service deployment.

"Efforts such as these by the consortium will help facilitate the adoption of open standards and will work to speed the deployment of broadband wireless services to residential and business users," he added.