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Working for the MAN

The WiMax Forum wants to make the recently ratified 802.16a wireless metropolitan area network (MAN) standard as big a success as 802.11b wireless LAN networking has been – by closely following in the footsteps of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

The WiMax Forum announced today that vendors supporting the 802.16a standard will do interoperability testing on base stations and other equipment they develop based on the standard. Then, once tests have been completed, the WiMax Forum will give the equipment its seal of approval, certifying that the kit will work with other 802.16a equipment.

Promoting a badge and brand that – for all intents and purposes – guaranteed interoperability between different manufacturers' 802.11b (11 Mbit/s, 2.4GHz) infrastructure and client devices is one of the major ways in which the Wi-Fi Alliance made a success of the WLAN standard.

The members of the WiMax Forum are now trying to turn the same trick. "It's the next big thing in the wireless broadband arena," says forum president Margaret La Brecque of the specification, which was ratified in January (see MANs to Go Walkabout).

Members of the WiMax Forum include Aperto Networks, Fujitsu Ltd. (KLS: FUJI.KL), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), Proxim Corp. (Nasdaq: PROX), and Wi-LAN Inc. (Toronto: WIN).

The fixed, non-line-of-sight wireless standard can operate in the 2GHz to 11GHz bands. The data-transfer speed available to the end-user depends on how much bandwidth is available. For instance, says La Brecque, a system that operates at an efficiency of five bits per channel in a 14MHz channel will deliver 70-Mbit/s data streams at a range of up to 30 miles.

This would be enough to serve 60 businesses at T1-like speeds of just over 1.5-Mbit/s per line, or 400 homes at DSL-type speeds.

Such a wired broadband replacement system would be far cheaper to install than a T1 line or DSL, La Brecque argues. She says that 802.16a equipment will probably cost a service provider around $10,000 per base station and $300 per subscriber unit. Best of all, the service provider will not have to install any wires.

In addition to last-mile kit, the WiMax Forum is also pushing a low-cost, 802.16a-based backhaul option for 802.11b public access hotspots. "The rapid deployment of hotspots will be constrained with multiple backhaul options," La Brecque suggests. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) is currently working on a standard for handing off between 802.11b and 802.16a networks.

It will, however, take a while for all this interoperability testing to be done. The forum doesn't expect to see WiMax-badged equipment on the market before 2005.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
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