New Wireless Standard, Same IT Issues

IEEE's 802.16a defines wireless MAN air interface, but interoperability and security questions remain.

Broadband wireless access took a step forward on Wednesday, when the IEEE approved 802.16a, an amendment to the groups 802.16 standard that defines the Wireless MAN (metropolitan area network) air interface specification.

802.16a was developed by the IEEE 802.16 Working Group on BWA (Broadband Wireless Access) to address the need for broadband connection solutions that are more economical than wired alternatives. The Working Group completed the BWA standard in October 2001 and published it last April.

BWA can provide more capacity than its wired broadband counterparts (cable and DSL) by extending fiber optic networks over the airwaves. The most appealing aspect of the BWA technology is its ability to build a broadband network rapidly with the deployment of radio base stations mounted on buildings or towers to create a high-capacity wireless access system from the ground up.

BWA solutions have been around for some time, but the lack of a universal standard has limited the range of the technology, reducing its usefulness. For areas such as developing countries where a wired infrastructure is limited, the 802.16 standard for BWA will be very important.

In more wired settings, the 802.16 standard can bring new BWA systems to the market as new tools to link homes and businesses to disparate fiber optic telecommunications networks around the globe. Extending these high-speed, high-capacity networks using conventional cable technologies can be a lengthy and costly process.

The IEEEs 802.16 WirelessMAN standard can allow users inside buildings to connect using standard wired (Ethernet) networks or wireless (802.11) networks. The design of the standard will eventually allow vendors to extend WirelessMAN protocols directly to the user machine.

The standard addresses frequencies from 10GHz to 66GHz, but the 802.16a iteration will allow devices within the 802.16 standard to support a lower frequency range—in the 2GHz-to-11GHz band—to offer less-expensive services to consumers. The lower frequency spectra will result in lower data rates, making the services more likely to target homes or small-to-midsize enterprises.

802.16 also includes measures for privacy and encryption: authentication with x.509 certificates and data encryption using DES in CBC (cipher block chaining) mode with hooks defined for stronger algorithms like AES.

The 802.16 standard can provide a flexible, cost-effective way to connect sites to broadband backbones. But, like the 802.11 WLAN standards, interoperability and security will be very much on the minds of IT managers thinking of deploying products using this standard in the future.

Whats your take on 802.16? Let me know at