Is 2005 the Year WiMax Gets Real?
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Although WiMax is still months away from its official inauguration, numerous wireless broadband proponents are announcing products. Many won't see the light of day until at least mid-2005.
The WiMax Forum, a wireless broadband industry group similar to the Wi-Fi Forum, says it won't be able to certify products for interoperability until June or July.
"You can only sell a vision for so much time," says Kevin Suitor, vice president of business development for Toronto-based Redline Communications.
Redline used the Wireless Communications Alliance's International Symposium and Business Expo to unveil its AN-100U, hardware that is to be used as either a base station or customer premises equipment (CPE) aimed at businesses.
Redline's previous entry into fixed wireless broadband was its AN-100, based on the earlier 802.16a standard.
The AN-100 "demonstrated the viability of the standards based technology for backhaul applications," said Keith Doucet, vice president of marketing and product management at Redline.
"The AN-100U will serve the access market, representing Redline's foyer into the residential space," according to Doucet.
Doucet's outlook is fueled by wireless broadband's potential to break the grip on broadband services now held firmly by DSL and cable modems.
A similar announcement came this month from Cambridge Broadband and its WiMax VectaMAX product combining the company's wireless broadband VectaStar CPE with Sequans' WiMax System-on-a-Chip.
For WiMax to succeed, the technology needs to ensure customers reliable coverage with high data speed.
"Numerous WiMax pico-base stations will be needed, and as with Wi-Fi hotspots, cost effective backhaul will be a key consideration," according to Cambridge.
The new VectaMAX base stations can become part of existing VectaStar networks, according to the company.
In addition to support for WiMax, Cambridge is adding the 10.5GHz band to the VectaStar products. The move addresses "the growing backhaul crisis due to increased capacity requirements and shortage of spectrum," according to the company.
"This will allow spectrum-limited network operators to use the 3.5GHz band to offer local WiMax coverage combined with 10.5GHz for backhaul," according to Cambridge.
The agreement with Sequans "creates an economically viable WiMax solution for small deployments as well as for larger rollouts," said John Porter, Cambridge Broadband CTO.
Such announcements are "a key milestone for WiMax," according to Suitor. Redline is a principal member of the WiMax Forum.
Interoperability Among Players
"The WiMax Forum does not endorse companies' claims of WiMax compatibility," says Kendra Petrone
"The only endorsement will be for equipment that is WiMax Forum Certified," according to Petrone. Such certification indicates "a vendor's equipment has successfully completed testing for conformance and interoperability."
Redline's Suitor has "a high degree of confidence that [the AN-100U] will be WiMax Forum compatible." "Compliance with the 802.16 standard does not mean equipment is WiMax Forum Certified or that it is interoperable with other vendors' equipment," according to a WiMax Forum statement.
"From our earliest days of product development, Redline has been committed to delivering solutions that support the standardization needs of the industry," according to Keith Doucet, vice president of marketing and product development.
While Redline announced its 802.16 product now, customer trials of its AN-100U won't begin until the second quarter of 2005 with limited shipments only occurring afterwards.
Currently, 802.16 requires an outdoor satellite dish-like arrangement for installing wireless broadband CPE. Suitor says that CPE, targetting small and medium businesses, will cost under $500.
Following the WiMax Forum timeline for the introduction of 802.16 technology, Suitor believes Redline will have an all-indoor user-installable CPE similar to a DSL or cable modem ready by early 2006.
At the center of many of the WiMax products slated to roll out during 2005 is Intel's Rosedale 802.16 chip. The semiconductor giant has set 2005 as the start of initial trials of the system-on-a-chip.
Intel also announced an agreement with ZiMax Technologies, a subsidiary of the China-based ZTE. The Rosedale chip will be integrated into WiMax infrastructure and CPE in China, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, according to Intel.
Intel has come down on the side of municipal-based wireless broadband providers in their struggle against incumbent telcos and cable companies.
While 802.16 hardware is now seeing the light of day, WiMax proponents do recognize the importance of wireless broadband applications. The WiMax Forum recently formed an applications working group to address the needs of service providers and the key applications they will require.
Service providers are being polled as to the applications they'd like to see and the performance needed from WiMax, according to Suitor.
Additionally, Redline is looking beyond the current fixed status of broadband to the mobile form of WiMax.
"The company is now actively participating in the development of the 802.16e standard for mobile applications," according to a statement.
Mobile WiMax is seen as the third generation of the technology, according to the WiMax Forum. The industry group expects WiMax to migrate to laptops and other mobile devices sometime in 2007.
Intel expects in late 2006 its popular Centrino chipset will begin including WiMax support. The chipmaker hails 802.16e as WiMax's largest opportunity.
Analysts agree that fixed WiMax is not a cost-conscious replacement for DSL or cable in the home and office. The opportunity is for mobile WiMax to become an option for cell phone networks starved for capacity as consumers use increasingly demanding applications.
Explosive interest in 802.16 will create the "rapid revolution of broadband wireless access as an essential communications tool," believes Roger Marks, Chairman of the IEEE 802.16 working group.