Anticipation is building for the first WiMAX World Conference and Exposition, in Boston, November 2-4, 2004. WiMax (IEEE 802.16), is widely viewed as the next significant advance in broadband wireless.
For the first time, all of the major WiMAX players, including technologies and applications, will be brought together. This conference could be the venue for the first (real) WiMax products.
The first WiMax gear will conform to IEEE 802.16-2004 for fixed broadband wireless in both the licensed and unlicensed band. Early next year, the WiMAX Forum, an industry group chartered to test and certify interoperability among WiMAX products, is expected to hold initial interoperability testing and certification programs.
WiMax Forum chair, Ron Resnick – also director of marketing for Intel’s Broadband Wireless division – will speak on DRIVING STANDARDS IN BROADBAND WIRELESS, Caroline Gabriel, Research Director, Rethink Research will moderate a panel on WiMAX BUSINESS MODELS, Craig Mathiask, President, Farpoint Group will speak on WIMAX: THE COMPETITIVE PICTURE, and Dr. Mo Shakouri, VP Marketing, Alvarion, will talk on, WIMAX TECHNOLOGY EQUIPMENT ROLL-OUT TIMELINE.
Intel announced their 802.16-2004 system-on-a-chip this September. Base stations and clients for 802.16d (fixed wireless) and the emerging 802.16e (mobile wireless) standards are being developed by Intel and Proxim.
Chip vendors like Intel, Fujitsu and Wavesat may be ready to roll. Equipment vendors including Alvarion, Aperto Networks, Navini, NexNet, Proxim, Redline, Trango, Wi-LAN and others could announce WiMax products starting this month.
Initially, WiMAX will use the 5-GHz band used by 802.11a. The 5-GHz spectrum may include a 0.5-GHz swath which could include additional bandwidth to prevent interference, according to Scott Richardson, general manager of the broadband wireless division in Intel’s Wireless Networking Group.
Frank Draper, director of sales and marketing for Wavesat, one of Intel s main competitors in WiMAX technology, estimates the growth of broadband Internet usage at 40 percent annually, and predicts a $5-billion market for the United States alone.
“With promises of base stations priced below $15,000 and CPE below $200 – and eventually below $30 – not to mention a WiMAX ‘Centrino’ in the laptop or phone, the economics look, on the surface, compelling,” says the introduction.
Many issues will take time to resolve:
It is unlikely that only one service provider will deploy within a country, says speaker Monica Paolini. “To ensure country-wide, or international, access to networks managed by different service providers, roaming agreements will have to be established. The experience of WiFi roaming has taught us that roaming relationships are not easy to establish – mostly because they involve complex partnerships and a common infrastructure.”
Bob Egan says, “Today a licence for a particular radio channel or piece of spectrum comes with a reasonable expectation of being able to operate on these channels or spectrum slices free of interference from others. If WiMAX wins licensed spectrum, will it be licensed in the same manner as today’s spectrum? Or will the FCC and others in Washington DC use WiMAX-exclusive spectrum as an experiment in software-defined or cognitive radio technologies and let multiple licensees operate in the same spectrum slice “managing” interference among themselves?”
“The WiFi spectrum at 2.4 GHz is already suffering from interference between WiFi ISP’s who are trying to use WiFi. Will WiMAX be able to avoid the same levels of interference on unlicensed spectrum or will it succumb to the same problems presently being experienced by the WiFi providers,” asks Egan.
Whether WiMax will deliver true DSL and cable modem competition remains to be seen.
The WiMAX Forum, the interoperability/trade group, has more than 100 members supporting the 802.16 standard, including big names like Intel, Fujitsu, Alcatel and AT&T, as well as providers like Qwest, British Telecom and France Telecom. Cellular carriers tend to be less enthusiastic.
Perhaps the best shot for WiMax competition is the high power MMDS band at 2.5-2.7 GHz. But that band is pretty much owned by Sprint, Nextel and McCaw’s Clearwire. McCaw put himself right behind Sprint and Nextel, tied for third with BellSouth in MMDS spectrum ownership. Sprint is unlikely to compete with their own billion dollar EV-DO service, but Nextel, without a “3G” technology, is testing Flarion in North Carolina and could use 802.20 in their 2.6GHz spectrum and, perhaps, 1.9 GHz (after a Consensus swap). Meanwhile, T-Mobile, with investments in Flarion, could also cross-over to 802.20. That would leave Craig McCaw’s Clearwire as the only (major) Wi-Max competitor to cellular, phone or cable broadband (“hello, Bill”?).
A wildcard may be broadband wireless on unused 6 MHz television channels (in 5-6 years). That will penetrate folliage and walls better. Broadband duopolies could find that hard to stop.
The unlicensed band at 2.4 and 5.8 GHz is less than ideal; the 2.4 GHz is already over crowded and the 5GHz band, which doesn’t travel far, only has a 100 Mhz usable section (from 5.725-5.825 GHz) authorized to deliver enough power for last mile delivery. A $200, 802.16e Rubber Ducky hanging from cable or phone line amps might provide wireless mobility. Will phone or cable operators offer blanket “cable zones” and try to “kill off” any “free” competition? Nobody admits it.
A study from Visant Strategies recently said the market for 802.16/WiMax could reach $1 billion by 2008. Mostly overseas. Some additional WiMax Projections:
- There were over 10,000 PMP BWA (sub 11Ghz) base stations and 1.2 Million CPEs installed worldwide providing 256Kbps+ broadband services to over 1.5 million subscribers.
- Alvarion is the market leader with about 25% market share followed by SRTelecom with 12% and Proxim with 9%
- EMEA which represented 32% of the overall market in 2003 continues to represent the largest market opportunity but Asia will outpace it by 2005;
- The carrier and private networks market segments represented respectively 85% and 15% of the total market in 2003.
- The access and backhaul applications represented respectively 84% and 16% of total sales in 2003. However backhaul will represent 30% of equipment sales by 2008
- 3.5Ghz, the most allocated frequency band for BWA, represents the largest opportunity for BWA representing 40% of total sales followed by the 5.2-5.8Ghz band. We believe the 2.3 and 2.5-2.7Ghz market share will grow to 25% of the market by 2008
- Already 12 vendors offer a 3.5Ghz product and 4 more players will offer a 3.5Ghz product in 2004 which will render that band market even more competitive
- Among Plug & Play, NLOS, portable systems, IP Wireless is the leader in shipments and revenues, followed by a small group of companies, which include Navini, NextNet Wireless, or SRTelecom (Angel). It is however difficult to sub-segment the whole market on system capabilities.
- Shipments of OFDM based product already represent 39% of all shipments and that proportion will grow with the adoption of 802.16d to close to 60% by 2008
- Shipments of 802.16e will grow exponentially after 2007 to 1 million units and will be dominated by Intel
WiMax pessimists include BWCS and Senza Fili Consulting, who predict fixed wireless services will only make up 3.6 percent of the overall broadband market in the United States by 2009, although broadband wireless services will bring in revenue of $3.7 billion.
Supporters of 802.20, a competing IEEE standard, anticipate products with megabit mobility for cars and high-speed trains with automatic hand-off. But some industry observers think the industry is moving towards the WiMax 802.16e specification as handoff between 802.16e “cells” is now said to surpass 60 mph. Support for both fixed 802.16d and mobilized 802.16e from a single provider may be more economical. Proxim claims 802.16e (mobilized) clients will be available towards the end of 2005.
Roger Marks founded the IEEE 802.16 Working Group in 1998, and has chaired, the Broadband Wireless Access Standards, committee. It completed the first WirelessMAN air interface standard in 2001 (for use above 10 GHz), and approved 802.16a, the original Wi-Max spec, in January, 2003.
Intel got involved with WiMax in late 2002 and, by becoming a WiMax Forum member in 2003, formally joined the likes of Alvarion, Airspan, Nokia, Proxim, Redline and Aperto.
“We envision (wireless) broadband connectivity everywhere, all the time,” said Ron Resnick, president of the WiMax Forum and a director of marketing at Intel. Intel is expected to have WiMax-ready chips available by the end of the year.
Resnick said timing played a major role in Intel’s decision to back 802.16 standards, as did direction. WiMax-compliant gear is expected by early next year, but 802.20-based products aren’t expected until 2006. Resnick added that 802.20 was more focused on being a cellular competitor, while Intel was looking for more of a data technology.
“This will not be an overnight transformation, and it will be tough (for WiMax) to establish itself,” said Michael Cai, an analyst with research firm Parks Associates.
Base stations will be able to connect to other base stations within a range of up to 30 miles with data transfer speeds of up to 75 megabits per second. Subscriber stations, those set-top box like devices, will connect to base stations with ranges of up to 3 miles and transfer speeds of up to 15 megabits per second.
Carriers and service providers will also have greater control of what services and plans they can offer subscribers from a base station. A carrier offering 700 kilobit-per-second and 1.4 megabit-per-second service plans could deliver both from the same base station.
Intel announced a deal this month with Proxim to co-develop WiMax equipment, with base stations available by early next year. Proxim’s BreezeMAX will offer both macro and micro base stations, for dense urban to rural areas. A macro base station can support multiple Access Unit modules (up to 6 in a single chassis). A variety of CPEs provide cost effective solutions that support multiple applications, including indoor Wi-Fi connectivity, firewall and advanced IP functions for home networking and Hotspot backhauling.
At least five chip makers are currently planning first-generation WiMax chips:
- Intel expects 802.16a chips in the second half of 2004. They’ll be used by Airspan, Aperto and Alvarion.
- Fujitsu chipsets will be in Wi-LAN gear.
- A French startup, Sequans Communications, recently announced a WiMax chipset.
- Wavesat Wireless will use Atmel’s foundry for 802.16d chips and has signed a cooperative agreement with China Electronics System Engineering Corp.
- picoChip claims its silcion is not your father’s Field Programmable Gate Array with ten times the performance of traditional FPGA and Digital Signal Processors for the same amount of money and power.” It’s said to make it easy to implement IEEE 802.16d, as well as 802.16e (mobility) and the Korean Wibro standard (also called HPi).
- Adaptix is showing pre-802.16e gear based on programmable chips.
Pre-WiMax broadband gear and service is available now from Calgary-based Wi-LAN, an OFDM pioneer, as well as TowerStream, a Wireless ISP that serves New York City, Chicago, Boston and other cities, Aperto Networks, and Craig McCaw’s NextNet Wireless. They all plan national broadband service and hope to switch to industry standards (WiMax) when available next year. Products based on prestandard versions of the 802.16-2004 specification are already being used. VeriLAN is using pre-WiMax gear in Portland while British carrier BT is testing wireless broadband services in the U.K. using Alvarion equipment based on draft versions of 802.16-2004. Towerstream buys its WiMAX equipment from Aperto Networks. SkyPilot, by contrast, will serve neighborhoods of up to 50 square miles using “wireless mesh” and 802.11a, the 5GHz flavor of Wi-Fi.
Will 802.16 chips be used in place of 802.11a/b/g chips? It could happen. When antennas are fixed atop schools, community centers, gas stations or utility poles, a 802.16 card, rather than a Wi-Fi card, may deliver longer range, more reliable connections. WiMax supporters say the polling architecture, more rugged dynamically adaptable modulation of 802.16a/e, narrower channels and MIMO antennas will make it so. Wi-Fi’s Task Group E, developing a WiFi solution for Quality of Service (QoS), may even adopt the QOS developed for 802.16 (WiMax). The volume (cost) winner will remain with Wi-Fi for years, but 802.16 chips could become a “city cloud” contender – both for fixed and mobile users. Power restrictions are the same for WiFi and WiMax (in the unlicensed bands), but WiMax can use narrower channels that can concentrate signals.
While 802.11a uses stock 20 Mhz channels, 802.16 can break both the unlicensed or licensed spectrum into narrower segments including 5, 6 and 10 MHz channels. Some equipment providers envision $20K wireless towers with 6 WiMax beams delivering 360 degree coverage. WiMax clients are expected to cost $200 or less in a couple of years. Intel anticipates WiMax PC-Cards, WiMax Centrino laptops, and even WiMax phones in 2-3 years. They would automatically hand-off between WiFi and WiMax.
In the 400-700Mhz television band, perhaps 802.16e clouds could provide near revolutionary, ubquitous broadband coverage (with VoIP) using fewer and cheaper “access points” than cellular could ever hope to provide. That would be risky business for many incumbents, of course, and is what makes 802.16 such an interesting phenomena.
The 1.5 billion mobile subscribers worldwide will pass the 2 billion in 2006 and 2.45 billion by the end of 2009, predicts market researcher EMC. The main growth is predicted to come from Brazil, China, and India.
Many people would ditch their landlines for mobile phones if the rates were cheaper. Done. IEEE (802) standards are IP-centric, providing packet-switched Voice over IP, while cellular standards like UMTS have a more circuit-switched approach.
- 802.16 – the original spec, is designed to standardize LMDS implementations. It’s used above 11 GHZ.
- 802.16a – designed for the lower 2GHz to 11GHz bands. Intended for “last mile” competition with DSL and cable modems. Promoted by WiMAX (IEEE published doc), it can deliver up to 70 Mbps with a range up to 30 miles. Uses fixed, non-line-of-sight antennas. Doesn’t include “handoff”. Prime unlicensed band is 5.8 GHz while the licensed 2.6 GHz band (and lower) may provide competition to DSL and Cable Modems.
- 802.16 REVd/802.16-2004 , consolidates revisions of 802.16a and 802.16c into a single standard that will replace 802.16a as the base standard. Among the changes is support of MIMO antennas, which will likely increase reliable range amid multipath. It may enable easy installs with indoor antennas.
- 802.16e – adds mobility features (email archives & pdf doc). Narrower bandwidth (a max of 5 Mhz), slower speed and smaller antennas allow “walkabout” or vehicular mobility (up to 40mph or so). It’s backwards compatible with the 802.16 standard. Completion of the final spec could happen by the end of 2004. At 3.5 GHz and lower, it may provide some competition to cellular with a range of 1-3 miles in cities.
- 802.20 – designed specifically for high-speed mobile users (think 180 mph trains). Can use narrow radio channels and duplex channels to provide cellular-like functions. Includes capability for hand-off, mobile 500-700kps connections, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), online gaming and financial transactions. Many native IP applications can be used without alteration (unlike circuit-switched cellular aps). Believed to be a contender for “4G” cellular adoption (think Nextel and T-Mobile).
The 802.16e Task Group will add a degree of mobility to the fixed (802.16a) standard. There is said to be some overlap between 802.16e and 802.20. Mark Klerer, chair of 802.20, argues that a separate spec is needed. The 802.20 uses a doppler resistant, frequency-hopping technique. The specification is being promoted by Flarion which uses Flash-OFDM to provide broadband wireless mobility at high speeds using frequencies below 3.5 GHz.
“Our goal is to bring a true broadband experience to wireless users,” says Mark Klerer, 802.20 Working Group Chair and Executive Director of Standards at Flarion Technologies. Flarion’s flash-OFDM solution is capable of delivering voice and data traffic simultaneously to one and/or many users, in a single 1.25 MHz carrier with 1,500 kbps down and 600 kbps up. Today, Flarion can support 31 simultaneously active voice calls per 1.25 MHz sector…and will support up to 62 simultaneously active voice calls in the next release”…
Whatever. WiMAX World is here. Now.