Intel, Proxim, Others Back the WirelessMAN

802.11-networks are called Wi-Fi because they’ve got the Wi-Fi Alliance to push the standard and its interoperability. But what does 802.16, better known as WirelessMAN (Metropolitan Area Network) fixed wireless broadband, have?

As of today, it’s got a slew of big names, in the form of members of the WiMAX Forum. This industry consortium has been around since April of 2001, but since just the beginning of this year, it has added seven new members. The current line up includes Airspan Networks, Proxim , Alvarion , Aperto Networks, Wi-LAN, Intel , Nokia , OFDM Forum, Ensemble Communications, and Fujitsu Microelectronics America. Major support from Intel and Proxim alone (that latter has also joined the WiMAX board of directors) is likely to shove WirelessMAN into the mainstream as a viable contender against other forms of last-mile Internet connections.

WiMAX hopes to take on a roll for WirelessMAN just as the Wi-Fi Alliance has for wireless LANs. Margaret LaBrecque, WiMAX president, says the similar approach will include interoperability and compatibility testing of future 802.16a products. A WiMAX stamp of approval will also be used.

LeBrecque, who is also part of the broadband wireless initiatives at Intel, says there likely will be some initial 802.16 equipment shipping in the latter part of 2004, with volume shipments in 2005. No major carriers have yet deployed anything with 802.16 technology.

WirelessMAN 802.16, which was initially approved in April 2002 by the IEEE provides up to 50 kilometers of range. It has a single-carrier modulation scheme that operates between 10 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 this year (thus the recent flurry of activity for WiMAX) and uses a lower frequency range of 2 to 11GHz. It doesn’t need line-of-sight to work.

For throughput, LeBrecque says, “because 802.16a covers 2-11 GHz bands, it has variable channel bandwidth. 802.16 works in both licensed and unlicensed. You must be able to have flexible channel bandwidth. That directly determines throughput.”

802.16 will be a potential competitor to any broadband connection for homes or businesses, from DSL/Cable on up to T1s, and likely cost much less to deploy to multiple users since cables won’t be run. While 802.16 and 802.11/Wi-Fi are not compatible — expect 16 to be used as Internet/ISP network backhaul to hotspots — LeBrecque says “We believe that now that a standard is in place, integration like having a laptop connect directly to the Man, may be achieved.”

A typical 802.16 setup would include a base station about the size of a pizza box mounted on a building or tower at the ISP that establishes a signal with a smaller subscriber unit at the home or business. The subscriber unit could be mounted out doors for best throughput, or even brought inside a building for potential self-installations to avoid truck rolls.

The upcoming 802.16b specification will add Quality of Service (QoS) to WirelessMAN and increases the spectrum used between 5 and 6GHz bands. An 802.16e specification for broadband mobility is also in the beginning stages.

“With the completion of the [16a] specification in January, there’s a lot of excitement,” says LaBrecque. “In terms of WiMAX, we’ve had seven new members join since January. We think 802.16 is the next big thing in wireless.”

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