Last week, the IEEE announced the official ratification of a new standard, IEEE 802.16-2004, which revises and replaces 802.16, 802.16a, and 802.16REVd. The announcement marks a significant milestone in the development of future WiMax technology, and is intended to help clear up confusion within the industry regarding the various versions of 802.16 that have been released thus far.
At the same time, Roberta Wiggins, Research Fellow at The Yankee Group, points out that it’s still early days in regards to WiMax in general. “There’s lot of hype around it, and there’s a lot of confusion about where it sits in relation to other wireless technologies, as we have next generation cellular 3G-based technologies rolling out, and we also have Wi-Fi in the metro arena,” Wiggins says.
While WiMax promises to offer performance improvements, Wiggins says there are still a number of issues to resolve. “802.16 lacks economies of scale, and there’s potential supply chain challenges for mass market devices,” she says. “There’s also other issues–the exact data transfer speeds and the range aren’t clear. It will depend a lot on how it’s implemented by service providers in terms of the number of channels they use and the bandwidth.”
A number of companies have been offering so-called “pre-certified WiMax” products in anticipation of the ratification of the standard, which Wiggins says is a risk. “It’s still a bit premature, but I guess this announcement helps in that respect,” she says. “It opens the way for the first wave of WiMax products, so it does assist a little bit in clarifying the specs for product development.”
Mo Shakouri, Vice President of the WiMax Forum and AVP of Business Development for Alvarion , says the ratification of 802.16-2004 represents the completion of the essential fixed wireless standard behind WiMax. The next step for the IEEE will be 802.16e, which will enhance 802.16-2004 by adding mobility to what is currently a fixed wireless technology.
Still, 802.16-2004 is not WiMax. “To build interoperability, you need to go through something like the WiMax Forum to say, ‘You shall build based on this requirement,'” Shakouri says. “You select a specific set of features and tell vendors to build like that so they can have interoperable products.”
The first WiMax certified equipment, Shakouri says, should be available by mid-2005, with capabilities targeted to customers’ needs worldwide. “It is a global marketplace,” he says. “Each region has their own dynamics, and it will be optimized–we will add special features and capabilities for different regions and different customers.”
Because the members of the WiMax Forum were also involved in the IEEE’s ratification process, Shakouri says vendors were able to get a head start in developing equipment for the standard. “Other than a few minor tweaks here and there, it’s been the same basic platform for the last nine months,” he says. “So vendors have been working based on that knowledge ahead of time.”
While some education within the industry may still be needed to ensure that people are clear on the difference between 802.16-2004 and its predecessors, Shakouri says last week’s announcement was a crucial development. “Now we have a formal document, formally released by the IEEE,” he says. “It doesn’t change any of our plans, but it is a major milestone, having the basic, fundamental 802.16 standard that the WiMax system is based on.”