WiMAX Adds Members, Sets Standards

By Eric Griffith

June 10, 2003

The group behind interoperability standards for wireless backhaul using the 802.16 standard gained 18 new member companies this week and set in place its first standards for eventual testing.

The WiMAX Forum , the non-profit corporation that will be promoting the 802.16a wireless broadband standard, this week announced that it is adding 18 new members.

Among the companies joining the group are Andrew Corporation, Atheros, China Motion Technologies, Compliance Certification Services, LCC International, News IQ, Powerwave Technologies, Redline Communications, RF Integration, RF Magic, SiWave, SiWorks, SR Telecom, Stratex Networks, TowerStream, TurboConcept, Wavesat Wireless and Winova Wireless.

They join existing members Airspan Networks, Alvarion, Aperto Networks, Ensemble Communications, Fujitsu, Intel, OFDM Forum, Nokia, Proxim and Wi-LAN.

WiMAX (short for "Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access") Forum is to 802.16 what the Wi-Fi Alliances is to 802.11 LANs. That is, it's a group made up of representatives from companies using the 802.16 technology in products, devoted to not only spreading the gospel of wireless (in this case, wireless metropolitan area networks, or WirelessMAN) but also setting standards for and testing for interoperability between products to make sure everything works together. WirelessMAN will likely be used primarily as backhaul connections to the Internet for everything from homes to hotspots, as well as for straight network bridging connections between locations.

802.16 was approved as a standard by the IEEE in April of 2002 to provide up to 50 kilometers of wireless range in the great outdoors. More recently, in January this year, 802.16a was ratified as an extension. It uses a lower frequency range of 2 to 11GHz and doesn't need line-of-sight to provide coverage. WiMAX will also be making sure that 802.16a works with HiperMAN products, a standard from the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) pushed by the OFDM Forum, a WiMAX member. The two standards are being developed in parity to get seamless interoperability.

As part of its standards for testing, WiMAX Forum has settled on its first standards for interoperability: they'll expect all 802.16/HiperMAN products to use 256 OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) modulation in the physical layer, and they must operate in the unlicensed radio frequency band at 5.8GHz, or in the licensed bands at 2.5GHz (in the US) and 3.5GHz (in Europe).

More frequencies will be added as the market dictates, says Mohammad Shakouri, vice president of business development for Alvarion and WiMAX board member.

He also explained the use of 256 OFDM by 802.16/HiperMAN: "OFDM is a technique you divide data to smaller chunks to send over the air. The number indicates how many bits you can make it." For example, 802.11a on Wireless LANs uses 64 OFDM. WiMAX specification of 256 OFDM means data can be broken up more; Shakouri says that's better for the signal traveling outdoors.

In the release, the chairman of WiMAX's Technical Working Group, Gordon Antenello, said that "focusing on the single physical layer for all products...[means] operators can be assured that the WiMAX certification mark will deliver on it's promise of interoperable, cost effective solutions from many vendors." The group expects to have full test plans and labs to do certification testing ready to go by the end of 2003.

Last month, a study by Visant Strategies said that 802.16a parallels where 802.11 was only a few years ago and will probably grow just as fast in the next few years (the two technologies are not seen as competitors, but rather compliments since .16 handles long distance connections and .11 handles local network connections for a single location). Visant's forecast said WirelessMAN equipment and chipsets could have a value around $1 billion by 2008.

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