Digital Life: Wireless broadband- the new frontier
When Eircom introduced broadband to Ireland in 2002, it charged €107 a month. It was a ludicrous price but no one was laughing because if you wanted high-speed net, it was Eircom or nothing.
Now we're spoiled for choice, at least if you live in an urban area.
Not all broadband is created equal, though, and fixed-line (via landline or cable) is always a better option than the 3G dongles from Vodafone, O2, Three, etc.
Developed by Intel and Motorola, the latest flavour of broadband occupies a middle ground between these two camps. Imagine's Wimax service essentially operates like a long-distance version of WiFi, requiring only a small box on your windowsill to pick up the wireless signal and distribute the internet connection around your house.
The box can also handle voice calls, so Imagine will happily sell you a phone and broadband package -- or just BB if that suits.
Wimax's chief advantage is price. Because no landline is required, it works out up to €20 cheaper per month for a bundle.
Like all wireless technologies, it doesn't have quite the same reliability as fixed-line broadband.
Compared to my own landline service, the Wimax broadband regularly hit similar speeds of 7Mb but wasn't nearly as consistent. Gamers too might be bothered by the slight lag known as latency but most users wouldn't be fussed.
Certainly, Wimax is leagues ahead of the erratic performance of 3G dongles, which have been dubbed "midband" due to their problems related to speed and capacity.
Remember too that Wimax routes phone calls over the internet and thus the service is useless in a power cut, unlike landlines. Still, most people probably have a mobile phone handy in those emergency situations.
The greatest obstacle to signing up for this new technology is the extremely limited coverage. Imagine has an aggressive roll-out planned but the numbers of masts countrywide is tiny and concentrated in Dublin so far. Unless you're within about 1.5km of a mast, you're out of luck.
Even then, Imagine may have to install an external box on your house to catch suf- ficient signal -- and that costs extra.
Phones and laptops with Wimax built in are expected to surface later this year but for now, it's an affordable and effective way to get your home online.