WiMAX – Where Are You Now and Where are You Going?

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We have previously written about Fixed WiMAX (standardized by IEEE 802.16-2004 and certified by the WiMAX Forum) gear being used to provide broadband wireless access in developing countries (e.g. India, Russia, Brazil). Other applications include DSL fill in, WiFi hot spot and Muni WiFi backhaul, n x DS1/E1 wireless tail circuits from an interexchange carrier’s POP, and even cellular voice backhaul.

While we still think those applications are quite viable, we are concerned that there have been no large fixed WiMAX networks deployed or announced in the U.S. Is it because 3.5GHz licensed spectrum is not widely available, the applications do not present a good ROI for operators, or some other reason? We would like to see something more solid than a trial run from Sprint-Nextel, AT&T, Bell South, or Clearwire.

Meanwhile, a number of industry experts are claiming that Fixed WiMAX will be obsoleted by IEEE 802.16e (2005), which is capable of providing both fixed and mobile service. But we also hear that this later version of WiMAX has been optimized for the 2.3G to 2.5GHz band and not for 3.5GHZ, which is more widely available in the rest of the world. Indeed, 802.16e appears to be the only broadband wireless network technology capable of supporting both fixed and mobile access – with QOS and traffic scheduling thrown in for good measure. In fact, IEEE 802.16e is a good choice for the operator wishing to build a single network that realizes the vision of fixed-mobile convergence and personal broadband services, because it offers the customer a variety of services and supports different traffic types over a single broadband wireless access interface.

But is 802.16e mainly a unified wireless network, or an overlay to 3G networks – which cannot yet provide the high data rates, throughput and spectrum efficiency needed for high bandwidth applications? If the 3G data technologies become available by 2008 will that eliminate the need to combine 802.16e with 3G to form a hybrid mobile network? Perhaps operators deploy the fixed version of 802.16e in conjunction with a full service 3G mobile voice/data/video network.

As we explore these issues in depth in future articles, we request your help. What issues or topics are you interested in? For example, are you curious about WiMAXs role in future municipal wireless networks? What about VoIP over WiMAX handsets? Is there really a business case for 802.16e as a 3G overlay network for high speed data, graphics and video – as Intel claims? The stage for WiMax applications is not fully set yet, but the dust is settling, and the picture is beginning to emerge. Return here for more developments as they occur.

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