Moving WiMax Into VoIP

Last week, California-based fixed wireless provider NextWeb announced plans to launch voice over IP in its service areas in California and Nevada through a partnership with VoIP facilitator CommPartners. According to the companies, this will be the largest deployment of VoIP services over a pre-WiMax network in the U.S.

Dave Williams, NextWeb’s vice president of Products, Markets and Systems, says the company explored a wide range of options before settling on CommPartners. “They’ve got a very robust, business-oriented voice over IP service that’s already developed, and a voice over IP network that spans across the country,” he says. “So it allowed us a quicker time to market with a very robust platform.”

The challenge, Williams says, lay in finding a service that would satisfy the requirements of NextWeb’s business customers. “Unlike a consumer service that may accept some dropped calls over the public Internet, we really wanted to provide something that was a true alternative to using the phone company,” he says.

In order to ensure quality of service, NextWeb’s and CommPartners’ networks are interconnected directly, not via the Internet. “CommPartners has built interconnects in all the major markets and LECs [local exchange carriers] out there, and that allows the voice traffic that’s destined for the PSTN to bypass the Internet,” Williams says. “And getting the call from the customer to the softswitch platform, that’s over our WiMax network and also bypasses the Internet, so we can control the quality and provide a true business-class solution.”

Williams says he expects the VoIP service to attract a new group of customers to NextWeb. “Businesses with multiple locations or even some teleworkers will be able to have one platform for all of those offices, with extension dialing, direct lines, and advanced features like auto-attendant, voice-mail, Outlook integration, and a Web-based control panel,” he says.

According to Williams, the NextWeb service offers more flexibility than VoIP over wired broadband can. “Let’s say you’ve got a T-1 for your office and you’ve got three to twenty lines coming in for voice,” he says. “Once you get over five or six, you’re probably moving to a T-1 for your voice—so now you have two under-utilized services that you’re paying for.”

“With NextWeb, we can handle all of that traffic on one circuit, and as the actual bandwidth needs exceed, say, the speed of a single T-1, we can scale that up,” Williams says. “Our standard Super-T service is four times the speed of a standard T-1, so we can scale to handle growth in both their voice needs and their data needs, all with one circuit.”

NextWeb’s network is currently “pre-WiMax,” though Williams says the company has tried to anticipate the requirements of WiMax as closely as possible. “When we get to the true WiMax systems, they will add additional benefits to us as a carrier, because the WiMax standard will add some bandwidth capacity to our network, and it’ll also help drive some of the costs down,” he says.

Once economies of scale make the system cheaper to deploy, Williams says, NextWeb plans to move beyond business users to target the consumer market. “At last count, we’ve got over 20 million population within our business coverage,” he says. “With the way we’ve built our network, we’re going to be well-positioned to go after that market down the road.”

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