PHILIPSBURG-- CaribServe, St. Maarten's largest Internet service provider (ISP), has deployed its 4G WiMAX network, with the focus clearly on increasing the quality of service to customers, increasing the available capacity and offering more bandwidth and different packages.
WiMAX is short for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access. WiMAX has the potential to do to broadband Internet access what cell phones have done to phone access. In the same way that many people have given up their "land lines" in favour of cell phones, WiMAX could replace cable and DSL services. In practical terms, WiMAX would operate similar to WiFi, but at higher speeds, over greater distances and for a greater number of users.
WiMAX operates on the same general principles as WiFi – it sends data from one computer to another via radio signals. The biggest difference isn't speed; it's distance. WiMAX outdistances WiFi by miles. WiFi's range is about 100 feet (30 m). WiMAX will blanket a radius of 30 miles (50 km) with wireless access.
The increased range is due to the frequencies used and the power of the transmitter. At that distance, terrain, weather and large buildings will act to reduce the maximum range in some circumstances, but the potential is there to cover huge tracts of land.
CaribServe's WiMAX services will feature indoor customer premises equipment (CPE) or antenna, taking the company away from the outdoor antennas it currently utilizes. General Manager Roy Richardson explained that the effects of tropical weather systems on the antennae had partially forced the company to move towards a new technology that would increase efficiency and decrease down-time that customers experience.
The indoor antennae also will allow the company to reduce "truck rolls" (technicians having to go to a customer's home to complete installation). Once customers are given new WiMAX antennae, they simply take them home and plug them in. Barring any technical glitches, service should commence immediately.
CaribServe is offering two models of antennae, one with a built-in WiFi router and one without. The antennae can connect to single PCs or to switches and run on multiple PCs, or could connect to other routers or access points to provide Wi- Fi services. The antennae also feature two phone ports, which will allow CaribServe to provide VoIP (Voice over IP) services to customers in the near future. CaribServe also will be catering to mobility aspects by offering a USB dongle to provide CaribServe mobile broadband @nywhere, @nytime.
CaribServe is delving into WiMAX technology with vendor partner Motorola, the worldwide leader in developing and deploying WiMAX networks and consumer devices. The agreement between Motorola and CaribServe was signed in February.
"We went through an extensive two-year research taking a look at various vendors," Richardson said, "not only in terms of their commitment to WiMAX, but in terms of stability, forward thinking and vision for the future of 4G. We didn't want to deploy a network today and have it obsolete in a few years.
"After going through the process we selected Motorola as our vendor partner moving forward, considering that CaribServe's current network is based on Motorola technologies."
He said the company was going through the network optimization phase to "make sure that the coverage that we forecast actually meets what we're seeing out there." CaribServe plans to offer WiMAX service in the 3.5GHz band on the Dutch side of the island with service to follow in 2011 for the French side of the island.
CaribServe expects it could reach some 10,000 subscribers for its new WiMAX service. Currently the company caters to approximately 7,500 subscribers. CaribServe has a dominant hold on the market in St. Maarten with a market share exceeding 65 per cent of the Internet subscribers.
While the new indoor CPE/ antenna will make it easier for customers to plug and go, the company also will be offering an outdoor unit for customers in coverage-sensitive areas. Another advantage of this WiMAX technology is also its non-line-of-sight: the antenna does not have to have clear and direct "vision" to the transmitter site to work properly.
To start the service for its customers, CaribServe will be migrating all existing and current members to the new platform free of charge. The migration will start with the annual pre-paid customers, so people who pay 12 months in advance will receive the antenna with WiFi built in. The quarterly subscribers will follow, and then the monthly subscribers.