WiMax standards receive ratification

The recent ratification of the World Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMax) family of standards, IEEE 802.16, promises to be a shot in the arm for wireless broadband, but users will have to wait for another 18 months say vendors.

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By  Maddy Reddy Published  March 7, 2004

|~||~||~|The recent ratification of the World Interoperability for Microwave Access family of standards, IEEE 802.16, promises to be a shot in the arm for wireless broadband. Better known as WiMax, technology adhering to the standard promises to deliver shared wireless data rates of up to 70Mbits/s over distances reaching 50 kilometres. As a result, the standard has already attracted the support of more than 70 major chipset vendors, telcos and wireless internet service providers (WISPs). Intel, for instance, is already planning 20 WiMax projects globally for 2004. “WiMax will make wireless broadband computing to the last mile ubiquitous. We are definitely behind the WiMax forum to help promote, certify and ensure compatibility of wireless broadband products,” says Ned Jaroudi, regional enterprise business manager, Intel MENA. WiMax kit boasts a point-to-multipoint architecture, which means direct line of sight will be a thing of the past. Its ability to provide data transfer rates of 70Mbits/s makes it significantly quicker than the 11 Mbits/s and few hundred feet range currently offered by Wireless Fidelity (WiFi). Furthermore, WiMax compatible products are designed to complement WiFi, which should help protect the investments already made by early adopters of wireless technology. “WiFi was designed for home networks and internal usage, but it is being pushed to the limit. For external usage, WiMax, which is a metropolitan area network (MAN), is ideal,” says Angelo Lamme, international product marketing manager for 3Com’s wireless division. However, while WiMax technology is technically superior to WiFi, it is still very much at the concept stage. As such, it will be at least 18 months before end users can access WiMax networks. “Right now it’s just a maturing standard that chipset vendors are trying to sort out,” says Lamme. “We don’t expect to see any WiMax compliant products shipping until mid-2005,” he adds. In addition to immaturity — an issue facing any freshly ratified standard —WiMax will have to tackle a number of other obstacles before the masses can benefit from its accelerated data speeds and greater coverage. For instance, within the Middle East and elsewhere, frequency issues have to be addressed so products using the standard do not impinge on other communications nor suffer degradation due to outside influences. “The specifications [of WiMax] are still very wide in terms of frequency allocation and there are still multiple frequencies with un-ratified sub standards,” explains Maxime Grandchamp, product marketing manager, US Robotics Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA). “Countries [in the Middle East] have to sort out frequency allocation before it reaches the consumers,” he says. Another issue closely related to frequency allocation is the possibility that WiMax will encroach on 3G network investments. As a result, markets such as Bahrain and the UAE that have already built 3G services may be unwilling to encourage the standard, especially when so many other emerging wireless broadband technologies, such as Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) and Ultra Wide Band (UWB), are appearing at the same time. “However, it is not about which technology exists [or will exist]. It’s about which technology the end user wants and can afford. Issues like pricing, availability, personal needs and regulation will determine which wireless broadband technology will survive,” says Goodchamp. Despite the hurdles facing WiMax, industry analysts are convinced it will take off and, when combined with other wireless technologies, will create new market opportunities for vendors and deliver business benefits for users. Parks Associates, for example, estimates that the annual recurring revenue for access services based on unlicensed broadband wireless (UBW) technologies such as WiMax and WiFi will grow at an CAGR of approximately 50% to reach US$2 billion by 2008. ||**||

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