WiMAX Opens Range Of Design Options

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Analysts agree that the standardization under the WiMAX banner—providing equipment vendors with a unified front and access to off-the-shelf silicon—will prove important in driving the fixed wireless market forward. As a brand, WiMAX promises to do for last-mile broadband Internet access what Wi-Fi did for WLANs. But there are important differences between the two, primarily the necessity for WiMAX equipment builders to use flexible architectures to maximize their potential market without having to create multiple incompatible designs.

Although it has been designed to maximize interoperability by taking only a subset of the much wider IEEE 802.16 standards on which it is based, WiMAX encompasses a wide range of options, each with a slightly different technology or set of requirements. There is not one WiMAX market, but a portfolio of distinct niches.

Some of these niches arise through regulation. Wi-Fi uses spectrum in bands that are unlicensed in most regions of the world, allowing the development of a large, homogeneous market. The situation for WiMAX is much more complex due to the higher transmit-power levels and fragmented radio spectrum in both licensed and unlicensed bands, which differ from country to country. As such, WiMAX deployments are envisaged ranging from 450MHz to more than 6GHz. CSMA is sufficient for Wi-Fi, while a much more rigorous radio access control mechanism is required for WiMAX, leading to increased complexity in the PHY and MAC layers. Coexistence issues for WiMAX are a further wrinkle.

Furthermore, the standardization of WiMAX has yet to be completed, so equipment builders are still chasing a moving target.

There are several ways that WiMAX can be deployed. One is high-bandwidth, point-to-point back haul (e.g. from 2G/3G sites or Wi-Fi hotspots). A second market is “metro Ethernet,” where bandwidths of 10Mbps and upward are provided on a point-to-multipoint basis, competing with fiber. New and rural operators can use WiMAX in the 1Mbps to 10Mbps range as an alternative to DSL or cable modemspotentially, with longer range and, hence, better economics.

While this can be a competitive offering, the opportunities are most powerful in territories without much installed copper plant, using WiMAX to obtain access to the Internet—a potential market of billions of users worldwide. Finally, of course, there is mobility; it ranges from nomadic use (“super hotspots”) through portable to high-speed mobile data services, adding a further range of options.

Continued on Electronic Engineering Times:

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