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WiMAX standard will augment Wi-Fi, report says

There is a more robust standard than 802.11, better known as Wi-Fi, for delivering high-speed broadband wireless to laptops and desktops, analysts at market research firm Visant Strategies concluded in a recent report. 802.16a, an extension of the 802.16 WirelessMAN (Metropolitan Area Network) fixed wireless broadband, has a range of up to about 30 miles with data transfer speeds of up to 70mbps, according to the report, and companies will begin to use it to augment Wi-Fi solutions beginning in late 2004.

"Under the current conditions, 802.16a could emulate 802.11's rise several years from now," said the study's author, senior analyst Andy Fuertes. "Many chip and equipment vendors ignored the chance to get into the 802.11 market early and to create market share due to market-size limitations created by high equipment costs, a much smaller potential audience and no need for all things Internet and [i]ntranet yet. WiMAX offers these technology companies a fresh start."

WirelessMAN 802.16 was initially approved by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) in December 2001, and provides up to 50 kilometers of range. It has a single-carrier modulation scheme that operates between 10GHz and 66GHz radio frequency and requires line-of-sight towers for the connection to work. The new 802.16a extension was ratified by the IEEE in January 2003. It uses a lower frequency range of 2GHz to 11GHz, and does not require line-of-sight towers to work.

In April of last year, several communications component and equipment companies formed a non-profit corporation called the WiMAX Forum (short for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access), through which they have been promoting the compatibility and interoperability of broadband wireless-access equipment. Specifically, the group is seeking to accelerate the introduction of 802.16a wireless broadband equipment into the marketplace, speeding up last-mile broadband deployment worldwide.

Last month, the WiMAX Forum added some muscle to its membership roster when Intel, Fujitsu, Nokia and Proxim joined the group. The WiMAX group's membership roster also includes Airspan, Alvarion, Aperto Networks, Ensemble Communications, Hughes Network Systems, OFDM Forum and Wi-LAN.

According to the group, 802.16a is the technology that will connect 802.11 hot spots to the Internet and provide a wireless extension to cable and DSL for last-mile broadband access.

"Wireless Internet service providers are deploying wireless broadband access in over 6,000 under-served markets in the United States by using proprietary technology solutions, which can be costly," said Margaret LaBrecque, WiMAX president, in a statement. "By employing 802.16 solutions, these service providers will increase system performance and reliability while lowering their equipment costs and investment risks."

802.16 WirelessMAN is increasingly referred to as WiMAX because of the WiMAX Forum's advocacy of the technology (much as 802.11 became known as Wi-Fi after the Wi-Fi Alliance pushed that standard).

The report by Visant Strategies, entitled "802.16/WiMAX Technologies: World Market Forecasts 2003-2008," concluded that, because they are optimized for different tasks (local vs. metro-area networking), Wi-Fi and WiMAX are complementary standards. Last-mile access will be the first application for 802.16a, the report predicts, but mobility will follow via another extension: 802.16e. 802.16a is also expected to play a role in outdoor and private networks, the extension of hot spots and backhaul applications that lack line-of-sight, according to the report.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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