802.16: The Future in Last Mile Wireless Connectivity

By Beth Cohen

August 18, 2003

802.16 promises to deliver true broadband speed wirelessly, but when will products be available and how important a role should the so-called WiMAX standard play in your future network plans? Join Beth Cohen and Debbie Deutsch as they take an in-depth look at the wonderful world of WiMAX.

Imagine having DSL- or T1-speed communications access for all your office locations, not just in office parks or urban centers. Would you like to provide metropolitan area broadband-speed links for all your staff, without leasing expensive circuits or installing costly fiber? As a home user, would you like to have a wireless broadband alternative to DSL and cable modems? The new IEEE 802.16 standard promises to deliver all of this and more.

802.16, the latest entry in the wireless networking technology pantheon, is an up and coming serious contender as a wireless alternative to DSL, cable modem, leased lines, and other broadband network access technologies. Intel has already pledged to develop a silicon product based on the 802.16 standard, and it claims equipment based on its chips will have a range of up to 30 miles and the ability to transfer data, voice, and video at speeds of up to 70 Mbps.

And while 802.16 products will not be widely available for at least another year or so, the standard itself should play an important role in your future network plans. 802.16 has the potential to slash your long-haul network/internet access costs and allow you to deploy a broadband mesh connecting all your sites in a region, which could reduce the requirement for leasing circuits or fiber, enable data center consolidation, and generate additional cost savings. With that in mind, it's important to get up to speed with the development of the various 802.16 standards.

Broadband Wireless Access

The telecommunications companies have made huge capital investments over many years to support POTS (plain old telephone service). In a regulated environment, Ma Bell was assured of a reasonable return on its investment. These days, building the “last mile” of fiber connectivity to an office park or city neighborhood can be highly speculative with an enormous up-front investment required before a carrier can expect to collect any revenue.

In contrast, broadband wireless has the potential to vastly reduce the initial investment and risk. Because customer premises equipment is a significant portion of the cost of wireless deployment, deferring that investment until the carrier signs up the customers can be a great advantage. Like a cell phone network, the carrier would pre-install base station transceivers on towers, poles, church steeples, or other high, fixed platforms. Unlike a cellular network, the customer’s transceiver normally is stationary, typically located on a roof — not unlike a satellite dish installation.

Because conventional “last mile” connectivity remains so expensive, the idea to use wireless technology instead is hardly new. The FCC auctioned bandwidth for something called Local Multipoint Distribution Service (LMDS) back in 1998 and 1999. The key selling points behind LMDS, 802.16, and related technologies are that they have the potential to be deployed far faster, less expensively, and more flexibly than similar wireline installations.

However, despite the benefits of broadband wireless access, you might have noticed that it is not yet readily available. This can be explained in part by the implosion of the data networking industry during the economic downturn, but another factor preventing widespread deployment is that until recently there has been no single, well-accepted standard for broadband wireless access. The growing success and popularity of 802.11 has turned the spotlight on 802.16 at just the time when it has passed a number of significant standards milestones.

Page 2: IEEE 802.16 Progress

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