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Mobile WiMax Takes Fixed Field

It may not be long before the "d" in 802.16d stands for "defunct." More and more WiMax companies acknowledge that 802.16e -- the standard often called "mobile WiMax" -- is in demand for fixed deployments, too.

"We think the basic technology for WiMax will be 802.16e," says Tzvika Friedman, president and CEO of Alvarion Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: ALVR), a WiMax pioneer and early proponent of 802.16d. "We plan to come out with 'e-ready' systems by the end of the year," Friedman says. A quick primer: WiMax comes in two basic flavors -- one designed for fixed wireless and one for mobile. The fixed version, with the catchy name of 802.16d-2004, was designed to be a replacement or supplement for broadband cable access or DSL. A more recently ratified version, 802.16e-2005, allows for roaming among base stations as well. Thus, the two standards are generally known as "fixed WiMax" and "mobile WiMax." But according to many of the hardware makers who attended the Wireless Communications Association International (WCA) annual conference in Washington last week, 802.16e is the new fixed WiMax.

"We've been getting lots of RFPs and RFIs (requests for proposals and information) for fixed WiMax," says Byron Young, vice president of marketing at Adaptix Inc. , which also makes WiMax base stations. "They used to say 802.16d. Now they say 802.16e. Some are municipalities. Some are emerging countries. Some are MSOs."

In the fall of this year, Adaptix plans to release base stations that run in both the 2.5GHz and 2.3GHz ranges, meaning they can operate in the bands used in the United States.

"If you want to get in front of a tier one mobile carrier, you better have your product in front of them this year," Young says.

Next year Adaptix plans to release a WiMax picocell base station, for use in small coverage areas such as the inside of a building.

Fellow base station maker Aperto Networks Inc. is moving toward 802.16e, as well. "We'll follow the Rosedale 2 roadmap," says Mike Pratt, president and CEO of Aperto, referring to Intel's plans for a client chipset that supports both 802.16d and 802.16e, which is due to ship by the fall of this year. (See Intel Wows With Dualmode WiMax.)

So, who has plans for all these base stations? Publicly, 802.16e has received an official stamp of approval among emerging markets. (See Motorola Makes WiMax Breakthrough .) Since then, WiMax vendors have reported demand from cable operators, who are generally trying to work wireless services into their portfolios. (See T-Mobile, Cable MSOs May Spend on Spectrum.) Now vendors are receiving inquiries from satellite operators, according to both Alvarion's Tzvika and Aperto's Pratt. Aperto already is in trials with Indonesia's Citra Sari Makmur (CSM), and other satellite companies have voiced interest in WiMax rollouts, Pratt says. (See Aperto Deployment Expanded.) "That does make some sense," says Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at Gartner Inc. "Even though they are satellite, they must be considered wireline operators because they don’t have wireless on the ground. So WiMax is a distribution mechanism for them."

Meanwhile, the development of mobile devices that support 802.16e should help boost its adoption as an actual mobile standard. One problem is that WiMax chipsets tend to be power-hungry for small devices, but component manufacturers are working on that.

"We are taping out in mid-July an 802.16e radio --- 180 milliwats as opposed to 4- or 500 milliwatts," says Charles Harper, chairman and co-founder of Sierra Monolithics Inc. , which makes WiMax transceivers. Samples of the lower-power radio should be available by October of this year, Harper says.

— Carmen Nobel, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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