Mobile WiMAX comes sooner rather than later

May 31, 2005

Conventional wisdom says that until the advent of 802.16e mobile WiMAX systems - still some time in the future - the wireless broadband standard will be more or less confined to the great outdoors. Some "near-outdoor" systems involving window-mounted receivers may be feasible, but for practical purposes WiMAX is considered an outdoor last-mile replacement technology.


WiMAX, an acronym that stands for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, is a certification mark for products that pass conformity and interoperability tests for the IEEE 802.16 standards. IEEE 802.16 is working group number 16 of IEEE 802, specialising in point-to-multipoint broadband wireless access. Because IEEE 802.16 networks use the same Logical Link Controller (standardized by IEEE 802.2) as other LANs and WANs, it can be both bridged and routed to them. WiMAX is a wireless metropolitan area network (MAN) technology that can connect IEEE 802.11(Wi-Fi) hotspots to the Internet and provide a wireless extension to cable and DSL for last mile (last km) broadband access. IEEE 802.16 provides up to 50 km (31 miles) of linear service area range and allows users connectivity without a direct line of sight to a base station. Note that this should not be taken to mean that users 50 km (31 miles) away without line of sight will have connectivity. The technology also provides shared data rates up to 70 Mbit/s, which, according to WiMAX proponents, is enough bandwidth to simultaneously support more than 60 businesses with T1-type connectivity and well over a thousand homes at 1Mbit/s DSL-level connectivity.

However, ABI Research analysts say that there are optional specifications built into the 802.16 standard which can boost the sensitivity of receiving equipment to the extent of making WiMAX PC cards and built-in receivers a practical proposition for laptops, PDAs and other portable devices. Generally these optional specifications have not been implemented by the largest vendors of WiMAX equipment.

However at least two smaller companies — TeleCIS and Sequans — have been designing their chipsets to implement these under-utilized options in the standard.

According to senior analyst Philip Solis, what this means is that "There may be WiMAX PC cards on the market earlier than many observers have expected. These will result from superior chipsets permitting the use of WiMAX in laptops and similar devices in homes and offices within the reach of fixed WiMAX transmissions. You will not have full mobility as you will with 802.16e, but you will have some portability."

ABI Research's recent study, WiMAX/802.16: Opportunities for High Speed Wireless Data in Enterprise, SOHO, Residential and Portable (802.16e) Markets, examines the drivers for, and barriers to, WiMAX. Companies involved with WiMAX, and some companies that will consciously avoid WiMAX, are profiled, and the study includes forecasts for subscribers, equipment, revenues and more.

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