By Marguerite Reardon
Published: Friday 9 December 2005
Gets its very own specification at last...
An industry standards group has approved a new specification for WiMax that includes mobility support, paving the way for chipmakers and device manufacturers to start working on new products.
The standard, called 802.16e, was finalised two months ago but it was formally ratified this week by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Finalising the standards process is an important milestone in the life of a technology and should help spur adoption.
Paul Sergeant, director of marketing for WiMax at Motorola, said: "Carriers don't like their futures dependent on a single vendor. They may only buy from one vendor but they want a choice. So it's very important to have a standard that gives them the security to know they can go to another supplier and the equipment will interoperate."
WiMax is considered a promising next-generation wireless technology because it supports high data rates and has a long transmission reach. The technology supports peak data speeds of around 20Mbps with average user data rates between 1Mbps and 4Mbps, Sergeant said. Transmission distances range from 60 metres in densely populated areas to between 1.5km and 3.2km in suburban areas.
Some WiMax supporters see the technology as both a complement to mobile telephone networks and a replacement for citywide Wi-Fi. Even though phone companies have spent billions of dollars upgrading their mobile networks, they are still limited in capacity. Today's 3G wireless networks only transmit between 400Kbps and 700Kbps per user.
Cellular still has a longer reach than WiMax but supporters of WiMax believe mobile operators could use the technology to augment their networks and provide more capacity for data applications such as mobile web surfing or emailing. In the US, Sprint Nextel is already testing the technology in its laboratories.
On the other hand, WiMax supporters also see the new technology as a replacement for wi-fi, which was originally designed to be used inside offices and homes. Wi-fi offers comparable data rates but its radios transmit only up to about 15 metres. This means that when wi-fi is used in an outdoor setting to blanket a city, hundreds of access points are needed.
Many cities, such as Philadelphia and San Francisco, have already started working on plans that include using mesh wi-fi technology to blanket their cities. One of the things that makes wi-fi attractive is that the radios and chipsets which receive the signals are extremely inexpensive. Practically every laptop built today has a wi-fi chipset embedded.
But Sergeant believes the new 802.16e standard will do for WiMax what the 802.11 standards have done for wi-fi. Intel and Motorola have already announced they plan to collaborate to speed up adoption of the new standard.
Sergeant predicts that products designed for fixed WiMax applications - such as providing broadband connectivity directly to residential customers - will be available in 2006 in the US. In 2007, mobile devices such as PDAs and smart phones will use the standard technology. And by 2008 and 2009, 802.16e chipsets will be manufactured in large volumes, spurring even further adoption.
Sergeant said: "WiMax was built for outdoor mobility. Wi-fi wasn't. The challenge we face going forward is getting WiMax into more devices; 2006 and 2007 will be the introduction and build-out years, and products will start shipping in volume in 2008 and 2009."
Marguerite Reardon writes for CNET News.com