The first reports of the potential benefits of WiMax technology appeared almost a year ago, when the IEEE ratified the 802.16-2004, or 802.16d, standard. Skeptics, however, were weary after finally sorting out the various Wi-Fi standards and cautioned that the WiMax hype was ahead of the technology. Given the fickle nature of standards, and standards-setting bodies, it was wise to stay on the sidelines. In addition, The Management Network Group and Bear, Stearns poured cold water on the concept at the time with a report in which they contended that WiMax would not be a threat to “dislodge or disrupt existing broadband service in urban and suburban areas.”
But since then, enough has happened to make us optimistic about the benefits and uses of the long-range, high-speed wireless networking technology and its eventual place beside other broadband services as the so-called last mile into businesses and homes. These signs are encouraging enough to warrant IT administrators to begin exploring WiMax options for their enterprises.
This month alone, there have been several developments. AT&T announced it will begin testing in May a WiMax prototype and will hook up two corporate customers later this year. At the CTIA Wireless conference, LG Electronics and Nortel Networks announced a deal to develop WiMax-enabled phones. Motorola also unveiled a new version of its Canopy WiMax platform that will support VOIP, video and other applications.
Before you get too excited, theres still much work left. WiMax, like Wi-Fi, comes with multiple standards that have multiple rollout schedules. The 802.16d standard, for fixed, or line-of-sight, networking, was approved by the IEEE but has not passed certification testing, which will begin this summer between vendors and the certification body, the WiMax Forum. As a result, product deployments wont begin in earnest until next year.
In addition, the 802.16e standard, for mobile handsets and applications, has not yet been ratified by the IEEE. That approval could come later this year, but its likely that 802.16e products wont be available to users until 2007.
Meanwhile, IT professionals should evaluate their enterprise needs and plan where WiMax might be best deployed. One way to prepare is making sure your networks have security appropriate to your business. Wireless networks will always be more vulnerable than wired links, so it makes sense to deploy reliable encryption and authentication technologies now if you havent already. It also makes sense to urge on policymakers the benefits of unlicensed spectrum—which Wi-Fi uses. More unlicensed spectrum should similarly be available for WiMax deployments.
Finally, WiMax can offer benefits anywhere. Rural areas are fertile WiMax territory because, in many cases, they have not been wired for cable or DSL broadband access, but thats no reason to exclude WiMax from urban, corporate and educational campus deployments. WiMax benefits will soon be broadly available everywhere. Its time to get ready.
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