RealTime IT News

The WiMax Race Begins

Everyone's talking about the WiMax standard for wireless metropolitan area networks (wireless MANs) -- so much so that people forget that the technology, based on IEEE 802.16, isn't even here yet. The question for the companies planning to support WiMax is: who'll be first? For to the victor of that race go not only the potentially lucrative spoils of being first to market -- that company's product will become the "base station" on which all future WiMax products must to conform.

Intel recently said it was working with telecom equipment provider Alcatel to help push its efforts. They expect to have technology in place by the latter half of 2005. But that might not be soon enough to be first.

Canadian equipment maker Wi-LAN is working with chip designer Fujitsu Microelectronics America to make WiMax sample products that will be in testing by the end of this year, and in full production early next. If they pull it off, their system would be the one the WiMax Forum would use as the basis for testing all future WiMax equipment. Without a system to certify other product against, WiMax specifications can't be finalized.

"WiMax has to have a golden base station that all [other vendors] will run their systems with," says Dr. Sayed-Amr El-Hamamsy, president and CEO of Wi-LAN. "We'll provide that if we're first. Then all the customer premises equipment (CPEs) need to talk to that base station. As more bases come out, they'll need to be compatible with ours."

That could be quite a coup for the small company. A study from Visant Strategies recently said the market for 802.16/WiMax could reach $1 billion US by 2008.

Fujitsu and Wi-LAN are working jointly to create a system-on-a-chip (SoC) WiMax system that they'll use to make products, and to license out to other WiMax product manufacturers down the road. The two company's have extended a product development and technology licensing agreement to cover this, giving Wi-LAN royalties for use of its Media Access Control (MAC) software, in addition to its OFDM technology. Both are key components in the SoC WiMax system.

El-Hamamsy says that while not many people know about Wi-LAN, which currently provides proprietary wireless broadband equipment. Some of its equipment is in use in Portland, Ore. and is supposed to be field upgradeable to 802.16a compliance in the future.

The company has been working quietly on WiMax for a long time. It owns patents going back to the beginnings of OFDM-256, the protocol being used to define WiMax use of multiple sub-carriers on a single channel. The company has employees working on the WiMax Forum Technical Working Group, and one that's the chair of the IEEE 802.16d Task Group. "We're not just blowing smoke," says El-Hamamsy of his claims that Wi-LAN will beat Intel and others to the punch.

He expects a fully WiMax-certified system to be on the market by April of 2005.

The WiMax Forum's standards for interoperability certification will be based on 802.16a, which itself is undergoing changes within the IEEE 802.16 Working Group. Soon a standard called 802.16-REVd will be published under the name 802.16-2004, and will roll up all the existing versions -- including 16a -- into one standard.

Then expect much later to see 802.16e, which will add client mobility to the standard.