BitDepth 720 - March 02

TSTT formally introduces its WiMax service for broadband in Trinidad and Tobago.
WiMax: more and less

Ashram Basdaye, Mobility Maintenance Engineer and Jeffrey Chung, Product Manager for Enterprise Marketing framed by transmitters (WiMax is at left) at TSTT’s St Vincent Street Offices. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

Quietly, during the Carnival season, TSTT launched their WiMax service for broadband after weeks of testing. WiMax (Worldwide Interopability for Mobile Access), is traditionally used as a “last mile” solution, replacing hundreds of individual drops to customers with a transmitter and receiver system that’s similar in principle to WiFi.
The service, according to Jeffrey Chung, will offer speeds of up to 10Mbs and is positioned as a delivery option for customers who are not currently served by a Blink Broadband wired connection.

You can’t buy WiMax from TSTT. You can buy Blink Broadband and if there is poor infrastructure in your area, TSTT will, at its discretion, offer you the WiMax option for connecting to its service.
The service, on introduction will support speeds up to 2Mbps, but the 802.16e specification for WiMax is theoretically capable of supporting up to 144Mbps.
It’s also a great solution for enterprise customers who need a temporary solution, and TSTT proved that pudding by supplying broadband to CHOGM using WiMax technology.

But the current state of affairs falls far short of the adventurous use of the technology that Jay Alvi, the company’s VP for Enterprise Services advertised at a November press conference.
Alvi promised a January launch of the service supporting fixed and “nomadic” use of WiMax, with full mobility options to come later in 2010.
That option will be added to the Blink-on-the-Go service, possibly as a higher bandwidth, premium addition to the existing EVDO based service.
“Our first preference for customers is our wired infrastructure,” said Jeffrey Chung. “There’s less latency and an overall better connection with a wired connection.”

There’s no denying the attractiveness of the WiMax option, though. In testing, the service worked largely as advertised, though I experienced some hiccups.
I live at the western end of St James, an area served until quite recently through a Lightspan device that neutered Blink. If you ever want to see a TSTT broadband executive blanch, just say “Lightspan,” preferably in a low hissing whisper.

You take the device out of the box, plug it in and connect to it via WiFi. The WiMax signal was marginal in my area, and the box had to be located close to an eastern wall. Unfortunately, the better the WiMax connection, the weaker the WiFi signal became where I was using my computer.

Eventually, I found a spot that balanced the two signals.
During two months of use, the system performed reliably, delivering the promised 2.5Mbps that was the formal test signal speed. In the first month, the Echolife modem proved prone to losing the signal entirely and required a deep reboot (one that wipes any customisation you have done via the web interface). 

I never could figure out how to password protect the WiFi signal from the modem’s router, but nobody would be close enough to pilfer the signal anyway.
According to Chung, TSTT should be ready to begin offering WiMax as a mobility solution by April, using USB modems that will take advantage of the company’s planned growth in coverage as it adds transmitters throughout the country.

TSTT seems to be missing a fairly obvious boat here by moving the option to choose a WiMax connection from a customer choice to a corporate patch job. Yes, the company should use WiMax to even out its coverage and even take advantage of TATT’s provisions to finance delivery of service to underserved areas, but a customer should be able to choose WiMax as their delivery option, whether they need to connect at their deputy’s house or setup a LAN party.

Key WiMax points
  • The technology is wireless, but must be within range of a transmitter to work.
  • Each transmitter has a range of less than two kilometres from a hardwire connection to TSTT’s Metro-Ethernet wired links.
  • The technology is not being sold directly, but will be offered as part of TSTT’s mobile broadband solution and as a company designated option in areas with poor wired penetration.
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