WiMAX Inches Closer to Reality

By Sean Michael Kerner

April 27, 2004

More telcos line up to help develop wireless 'last mile' standards for WiMAX.

"Last mile" fixed wireless broadband technology known as WiMAX continues to gain momentum with four new telecommunications providers joining the industry working group WiMAX Forum.

The service providers that signed up with the WiMAX forum Monday yesterday, BT, France Telecom, Qwest Communications, Reliance Telecom and XO Communications.

The non-profit WiMAX Forum exists to promote and eventually certify the IEEE 802.16 standard for fixed wireless broadband Metropolitan Area Networks and ETSI HiperMAN specifications. The WiMAX certified endorsement the group is working on will guarantee that devices and products conform to the standard and are interoperable.

"It's a pretty important announcement," said Dean Chang, who chairs the service provider working group of the WiMAX Forum.

"We definitely need to get the support of service providers that plan to roll out WiMAX certified equipment when it becomes available," he told internetnews.com.

Service providers make up 25 percent of the WiMAX Forum's current membership, which now stands at 98. The service providers also have their own working group within the forum, which allows them to collaborate and provide input on requirements which will be essential to market adoption.

"One one of the things we're trying to do with this group is to accelerate the adoption of WiMAX equipment," Chang said.

Earlier in the year, Intel announced that it would be including WiMAX in some of its chips beginning in the second half of this year. At that time, Intel said it expected service providers to deploy the standard in 2005.

Despite the momentum and growing base of companies working in the WiMAX Forum, wireless MANs are far from reality, since WiMAX certified products do not yet exist.

"Some people are saying that they've already deployed WiMAX products but in reality since there is no certification, [so] that's not true," Chang added.

"I think there's still a lot of wait and see," added Jupiter Research analyst Julie Ask. (Jupiter Research and this publication are owned by the same parent company).

"WiMax in my mind is just another last mile technology at this point. Also, I think it's a bit of early hype around a technology without a ratified standard yet."

One company that claims to offer WiMAX-like wireless broadband would tend to disagree on whether the technology is currently a reality. TowerStream, a fixed wireless company that claims to offer wireless broadband access to businesses using the WiMax technology, is deployed in Providence/Newport, Boston, New York, and Chicago.

"Getting people to agree on a standard for WiMAX is the hardest part," Jeff Thompson, president and COO Towerstream, told internetnews.com. "Towerstream was the first operator to join the WiMAX forum over a year ago and today we offer many of the features that WiMAX is promoting."

Jupiter Research senior analyst Joseph Laszlo also noted that now's probably the right time for telcos to take a greater interest in developing WiMAX standards.

"Unlicensed deployments face huge hurdles around interference, while higher wavelength licensed bands require line of sight and have other issues that make them hard to use for large-scale data deployments, regardless of whether we're talking about a standard or proprietary wireless technology." Laszlo told internetnews.com. "I'd expect the established carriers to try to accelerate 802.16 support for licensed spectrum, probably at lower wavelengths, in which case it could well be a cost-effective way for them to increase their broadband footprints beyond the reach of traditional wired DSL."

Originally published on .

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