Standards, Intels Marketing Could

By Carmen Nobel  |  Posted 2005-05-30 Print this article Print

Help WiMax Succeed"> The road map for WiMax calls initially for wireless, fixed last-mile connectivity and then eventually for mobile broadband connectivity that allows roaming among base stations. The technology promises a range of several miles between client and base station and an average speed of as much as 40M bps per channel. In both fixed and mobile iterations, WiMax is designed to run in licensed spectrum bands, meaning it is contingent on support from telecommunications carriers.

The WiMax Forum—an industry marketing consortium and certification body headed by an Intel marketing director—has largely been successful collecting members. A year ago, the Forum had 47 members; as of April 1, there were 291.
These include telecom equipment makers, wire-line and wireless carriers, and chip-set vendors such as Intel, Fujitsu Microelectronics America Inc. and Texas Instruments Inc. However, membership does not equal commitment to WiMax among mostly pragmatic equipment makers.

"Intel is a big technology partner of Siemens," said Andy Mattes, president and CEO of Siemens Communications Inc., in Boca Raton, Fla., which makes equipment for wired and wireless carriers and plans to build WiMax equipment. "We are heavily involved, but its too early to make a statement as to where this thing is going."

Other major Forum members have voiced no product plans. "WiMax is something were tracking closely, but we dont have any specific product plans," said Dave Leonard, a vice president and general manager of the wireless networking business unit at Cisco Systems Inc., in San Jose, Calif. "Intel kind of expects us to step into the fray."

The standard for fixed WiMax is IEEE 802.16-2004, also known as 802.16d. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers ratified the standard last June, and the WiMax Forum plans to begin certification tests for fixed-wireless equipment this July, with hopes for several certified products by the end of the year. Several base stations have already been submitted for testing, according to Forum officials, who said the success of mobile WiMax depends on the success of fixed WiMax.

"Wheres the credibility factor if you cant deliver good fixed solutions?" asked Ron Resnick, president of the WiMax Forum, also in San Jose. "If you cant do that, why should anyone believe you can deliver good mobile solutions?"

Read more here about fixed broadband with WiMax. Fixed WiMax, however, is burdened by history. Carriers and equipment providers have been unsuccessful with fixed-wireless efforts. For example, in 2001, AT&T Wireless Services Inc. shuttered its fixed-wireless unit, once dubbed Project Angel. Ciscos acquisition of fixed-wireless player Clarity Wireless Corp. in 1998 also foundered.

"It was a nothing business," Ciscos Leonard said. "And it was a difficult business to grow. It was a chicken-and-egg thing. Maybe with WiMax, well be able to re-enter that space."

The existence of a standard combined with Intels marketing push could help WiMax succeed where previous efforts failed, say some industry observers.

"The need for a solid fixed WAN wireless solution definitely exists," said Daniel Ellis, chief technology officer of PenTeleData, an ISP in Palmerton, Pa. "Many companies, including ourselves, use fixed-wireless links to connect buildings, campuses and such. The issue that we experience is that there are no standards for the licensed professional gear, there is limited interoperability and its expensive."

"My hope for WiMax relates to rural areas," said Kevin Wilson, product line manager for desktop hardware at Duke Energy Corp., in Charlotte, N.C., and an eWEEK Corporate Partner. "I have personally talked to a half-dozen people in my company that live out of reach of DSL [and] cable and are searching for connections to work from home."

Such users could be waiting a while for Forum-certified fixed-WiMax products in the United States, however. The certified WiMax products due to roll out in the fourth quarter will run in the 3.5GHz band, which is not generally used in the United States. The WiMax-appropriate spectrum available in the United States is in the licensed 2.5GHz and license-exempt 5.8GHz bands. Certification testing for equipment using those bands wont happen before next year, the Forums Resnick said.

"Different countries are looking at different frequencies, and thats not going to help deployment," Siemens Mattes said. "You can adapt to each frequency, but you have to test software a little, and it slows things down."

Still, some companies are going ahead with public tests. AT&T Corp. plans to hold trials of prestandard WiMax service to enterprises in the United States, including one test late this spring in Middletown, N.J.

For the most part, however, fixed-WiMax proponents are not targeting corporate building links but large rural areas in underdeveloped countries that have little existing wired infrastructure—a substitute for cable or DSL lines.

"I dont expect there to be a whole lot of highly visible 802.16d activity in the States," said Intels Peck. "Thats my outlook."

Systems integrators echo the sentiment.

"The biggest WiMax requests are not from the mobile providers but from the wire-line providers asking how do they provide service to rural areas," said Mattes.

"I more often than not lean to the wired side when mobility is not needed," said Ellis. "I work for a regional cable/ DSL provider that researches providing fixed and mobile wireless Internet every nine months or so, and each time the business case fails to show a profitable service. Two weeks ago, I attended a town council meeting where Intel presented its boilerplate presentation for WiMax to provide citywide fixed and mobile broadband access for Lewisburg, a small, very digital, already-DSL/cable-wired town in Pennsylvania."

"The presentation made it fairly clear that WiMaxs strong points for service providers were in areas that lacked existing broadband access—developing countries, rural areas that do not have access and cities that have oversubscribed areas where broadband is not available," Ellis said.

"Their mobile solution was to install 802.11 [Wi-Fi] hot spots in the areas that needed mobile access," he said. "As you would expect, the majority of the presentation was all the wonderful things you can do with broadband, but these things are available to the folks already."

Next Page: Next-generation cellular technologies compete against WiMax.


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