Friday, March 18, 2005

WiMAX Moves Out

WiMAX, the 800 lb Wireless Gorilla, is starting to make its move. But isn't official WiMAX certification supposed to be in July? Yes, but who can wait that long?

Apparently, the answer is "no one." Pre-WiMAX technology is breaking out of the labs and moving into position world wide. No less a corporate giant than AT&T has announced it will start testing WiMAX in Middletown, N.J. in May. These test will focus on providing service up to 6 Mbps per user to a range of 2 to 6 miles for business customers. Both line of sight and non-line of sight transmissions will be tested. Success will make WiMAX a strong competitor to DSL, cable Internet, wireless, and even T1 dedicated data lines.

Meanwhile Tokyo is launching an ambitious city-wide WiMAX Metropolitan Area Network. Trials will start in the next few months and service will begin in December. This implementation will use AS.MAX base stations from Airspan Networks that are capable of bandwidth up to 50 Mbps.

Ireland is also a player. Irish Broadband expects to launch the start of a nationwide WiMAX network this year. No doubt, there will more announcements as WiMAX begins its move to blanket the globe.

WiMAX, Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, is the big brother to WiFi wireless broadband. It has the ability to provide service up to a maximum of about 30 miles. Data rates within a few miles of the access point can soar to 70 Mbps. In about a year, WiMAX capability is expected to be built into notebook computers the way WiFi capability is included now. WiMAX is being billed as a MAN or Metropolitan Area Network while WiFi is targeted more as a LAN or Local Area Network.

All of the initial WiMAX tests and deployments are based on the 802.16-2004 standard that was ratified by the IEEE in June of last year. The pre-WiMAX equipment is expected to get its "WiMAX Forum Certified" stickers later in the year. Vendors have planned ahead for upgrade to the 802.16e extension for mobile operation when that is ready.

The importance of the WiMAX Forum Certification is proof that any manufacturer's equipment can operate with any other's that gets the certification. Manufacturers including Alvarion, Airspan Networks and Redline Communications are already running their own interoperability tests to avoid any unpleasant last minute surprises. This is especially important considering the amount of equipment that may already be in the field by the time the designs are blessed as officially WiMAX.

WiMAX has been standardized for both the licensed and unlicensed bands in the spectrum between 2 and 11 GHz and 10 to 66 GHz. To get things rolling, the WiMAX Forum is certifying equipment for the 3.5 GHz international band and the 5.8 GHz license free band.

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