Receive new posts as email.
This site operates as an independent editorial operation. Advertising, sponsorships, and other non-editorial materials represent the opinions and messages of their respective origins, and not of the site operator or JiWire, Inc.
Entire site and all contents except otherwise noted © Copyright 2001-2006 by Glenn Fleishman. Some images ©2006 Jupiterimages Corporation. All rights reserved. Please contact us for reprint rights. Linking is, of course, free and encouraged.
The group behind both fixed and mobile WiMax flavors offers a chunk of very technical details about mobile WiMax’s characteristics: This is the first of two parts, providing a huge amount of extremely technical detail about how signals will be encoded, provisioned, and propagated, including quality of service (QoS) tagging. There’s some interesting detail in how frequency and time diversity in the use of OFDMA—an encoding method that divides a spectrum band into narrow sub-carriers—can allow many simultaneous users to have a high degree of reliable provisioned service that’s designed to minimize interface. In Wi-Fi, all devices use the entire range of frequencies while transmitting; with mobile WiMax, there will be dynamic sub-carrier and time slot assignments.
The second part of this report will compare cellular technology with mobile WiMax.
Aperto, Redline, Sequans, and Wavesat get first nod: This first wave of testing covers just a simple air link, and is so limited that a number of companies, including Alvarion, sat this round out.
The four companies who have WiMax certification will certainly trumpet the fact, but it doesn’t change the dynamics of the industry. These initial certifications work just in the 3.5 GHz band, which isn’t yet approved for use in the US.
The press release from the WiMax Forum notes that the Spanish testing lab has 26 reservations for base station and customer premises equipment in the queue, which will be completed over the next two months. Subsequent waves of testing will cover more and more aspects of WiMax performance and interoperability, such as quality of service and advanced radio features.
For a rundown of what’s handled in each wave of certification, consult analyst Monica Paolini’s free white paper.
The WiMax Forum claims 150 WiMax (really pre-WiMax) networks have been deployed worldwide: This includes pilot and commercial rollouts. The article notes that certified products from the first testing are expected to appear next year—which is odd, given that some companies were predicting last month that certified labels would be applied in November.
The article also notes that a plugfest for informal interoperability testing in China on the 3.5 GHz band (not yet available in the U.S. for this purpose) saw 2.8 Mbps to 7.2 Mbps throughput ranges. No word on how many devices worked with other devices.
Monica Paolini has written a perfectly clear explanation of how WiMax certification works and what to expect (PDF): Paolini runs the Senza Fili Consulting practice and focuses on wireless broadband. This short, general-business-audience rundown of WiMax certification should provide a guide for anyone trying to track where the industry is at.
It was clear to me before reading her white paper that this month’s WiMax certification is just a bagatelle; it doesn’t offer the kind of tests that would drive large deployments. I’d heard this from vendors, and Paolini’s explanation makes it abundantly clear why that’s so.
The WiMax certification process may be a bit behind schedule: It’s hard to know, however, if WiMax Forum members are back peddling or just filling in some details. In April and again in July, the WiMax Forum very clearly in press releases stated that the lab would be open and accepting equipment for certification in July. Now, forum members are saying that in July plugfest began and official certification testing won’t start until October. Many of them are insisting that this isn’t a delay but part of the original plan.
I got a call from the folks at Alvarion last week, offering to explain the process in an effort to clear up this confusion but frankly it’s still not clear if the forum is stretching the truth or if in fact all is still going according to plan. Carlton O’Neal, Alvarion’s vice president of marketing, explained that plugfest started in July. Alvarion is not participating in plugfest and O’Neal suggested that plugfest may not be a very significant activity. “Plugfest is a term that sounds kind of more centralized or more structured than I think it is,” he said. However, he cautioned that because Alvarion isn’t taking part in plugfest, he may not have the best insight.
Clearly, Alvarion doesn’t see much value in taking part in plugfest. “It’s a personal choice for those [vendors] if they want to be there,” O’Neal said. “It doesn’t speed up us being certified or slow it down.”
O’Neal was crystal clear on official certification. “What isn’t going on is certification testing. The reason I know that is because wave one doesn’t start until October,” he said.
Certification happens in two waves. The first is conformance testing, where the equipment is run through a set of tests aimed at concluding that the equipment matches the WiMax version of the 802.16 specification. Equipment that passes wave one moves on to wave two, where it is tested for interoperability against equipment from at least two other vendors.
O’Neal suggested that there may indeed be further uncertainties to the initial wave of certification. While it’s been generally assumed that the first set of equipment to be tested will be FDD in the 3.5 GHz band, he said that recently there has been some buzz over TDD in the 3.5 GHz band being the first type of gear to be tested. Also, he suggested that there actually may be some doubt that equipment from three vendors will be available at the start of certification in order to do the interoperability testing. “The ultimate issue at hand for certification testing, and there’s a certain amount of risk associated with it, is the critical mass of three vendors has to be in the same frequency and the same duplexing scheme,” he said.
As a reminder, in January, the WiMax Forum called on a lot of journalists to try to clarify the schedule after some reactionary stories heralded a setback to the certification process. Around that time, the forum had started talking about doing certification in July, rather than earlier in the year as had been initially planned. But the forum told me and other journalists that the July timeframe had been agreed among members back in early 2004.
Throughout this year I’ve consistently heard either directly from the forum or in official forum press releases that July was to be the start of certification. If the forum considers plugfest to be the start of certification, the forum should have spelled that out, in order to avoid this existing confusion and some potential negative press. Personally, I think that the start of certification means just that—certification, not plugfest.
ArrayComm joined the WiMax Forum: It appears though that ArrayComm joined not in an effort to make its broadband wireless network gear comply with WiMax but to push its smart antenna technology into WiMax. ArrayComm and Intel have said they’ll work together to include smart antenna technology in the 802.16e standard.
Steve Stroh notes that there are a number of smaller broadband wireless operators that have joined the WiMax Forum recently: While the big operators have loudly trumpeted their membership in the forum, the smaller players haven’t made such noise about their membership. Yet, as Stroh notes, these relatively smaller operators are quite important members of the forum seeing as some of them have been offering broadband wireless services for many years. I find NextWeb’s membership especially important. NextWeb claims to be the largest broadband wireless operator in California and seems to be successful at offering services in large markets like San Francisco where the company competes against all the major wireline broadband service providers. NextWeb has managed to attract venture capital funding and is at least trying to be seen as a leader in the market by working together with other broadband wireless operators on spectrum sharing issues.
When I’ve talked to folks like NextWeb, they seem excited yet cautious about WiMax. They are very interested in the cost savings they might realize by the availability of a standards-based solution. But they’re also wary because they say that WiMax was made to conform to the lowest common denominator, as standards-based solutions usually do, so it will likely have some shortcomings compared to some of the proprietary solutions on the market now.
Sprint joined the WiMax Forum: According to Telephony magazine, Sprint and its merger partner Nextel are the only two U.S. cellular carriers that are members. Sprint has recently deployed technology from Lucent, called the IP multimedia subsystem, which is designed to make it easier to link different access technologies. Sprint has talked about linking Wi-Fi, cellular, and wireline but Telephony supposes that WiMax could also be linked in. That would sound like Sprint is trying to be technology agnostic, choosing the most efficient access technologies and merging them together.
The WiMax Forum reached out to us in an effort to set the record straight after recent headlines described delays in the certification process. Around two years ago when the forum was creating its timeline, it had targeted early 2005 for the beginning of certification work. But early last year the forum revised that, based on feedback from the vendors, to target mid-2005 for the start of certification. “We try to work with the vendor companies to identify when is the best time we should do this,” said Mo Shakouri, WiMax Forum board member. Per the forum’s announcement earlier this week about choosing a test lab, it is on schedule to begin testing this summer.
Shakouri expects that in the next few months companies will begin working with each other informally to make sure their products are based on the same set of assumptions and so that they have a better chance of making it through the interoperability certification process. Many of the recent reports referring to delays in the process noted that companies had expected to start such testing this month but likely won’t for a few more months. Some of the reports, however, revealed that companies were unlikely to start doing interoperability tests until June or July, which would imply that they wouldn’t be ready for certification testing for another few months.
Those reports also referred to manufacturing delays from the chip makers, but Shakouri said that if there are such delays, they don’t seem to be affecting the certification timeline. “From our point of view, there’s not been any news from any of our members that suddenly they’re not going to make the July timeframe,” he aid. “None of the system companies have said they will delay their introduction to the lab.” He suggests that if there is a delay from the chip makers, it’s minor enough that it won’t delay the delivery of products to the test lab.
The WiMax Forum chose Cetecom Spain as the standardization test lab: The forum said the certification program will start in July. After recent news that the process is about six months delayed, the forum has laid out its vision for the future timeline. The forum expects operator lab trials to start in the third quarter 2005 with commercial trials in the fourth. Ron Resnick, president of the WiMax Forum, is “optimistic,” that networks will be commercially deployed in the first quarter 2006. Ironically, hearing the term “optimistic” from the head of the forum actually doesn’t sound very encouraging.
However, it’s nice to have this milestone—the designation of the test lab—pass. If the lab does actually start the certification process in July, the schedule may start moving along.
The press release doesn’t seem to be available online anywhere. We’ll include a link as soon as we find it online.
The WiMax Forum has postponed the start of plugfest, the time when interoperability tests were to be done in the initial steps toward the equipment certification process: Plugfest was supposed to start this month but now has been tentatively set for as late as June or July. The setback would appear to add half a year to the certification process.
While few expected the schedule to go exactly as planned, six months is quite a long delay. In the meantime, vendors will continue to market their “pre-WiMax” equipment because they’re now put in an awkward position. They can’t exactly hold off on selling gear while they wait for the process to move forward. Also, with all the hype around WiMax, they’ll feel compelled to use the term in their marketing efforts or risk losing potential sales.
The delay itself also risks being overhyped. WiMax is getting a bit of criticism of late, as 3G networks launch, Wi-Fi coverage expands and questions surrounding the demand for a fixed WiMax service surface. Realistically, practically every standards process has taken longer than expected.
It’s a bit ironic that Intel is being blamed in part for the delay because it has yet to release its silicon which will be used in the customer premise equipment. It doesn’t look great for WiMax’s biggest cheerleader to be partly responsible for the delay.
As Mike Masnick of The Feature notes, the biggest losers here are the potential customers for WiMax gear. They’ll be buying the “pre-WiMax” equipment with high hopes that the gear can be easily upgrade to true WiMax. That’s a big question mark but one that some operators may feel compelled to live with.