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Mobile WiMax’s inclusion in a global wireless broadband standard means that it can be used over standard bands approved for this purpose: IMT-2000 is a set of five radio standards linked to other elements that have been approved by many different authorities for use over advanced wireless bands in their various countries and regions. The two most popular are W-CDMA (GSM 3G) and CDMA2000 (CDMA 3G). By gaining ITU approval for mobile WiMax (really, 802.16 in this context), this dramatically increases the odds that it can be deployed more widely by not requiring special approval or specific bands. It also provides mobile WiMax as a migration possibility for carriers that haven’t yet deployed 3G.
Early mobile WiMax profiles from the WiMax Forum cover 2.3 GHz, 2.5 GHz, and 3.5 GHz, the most common currently available bands worldwide. (5.4 and 5.8 GHz mobile WiMax isn’t covered by approved profiles, but the same technology may be used on those bands as on the profiled bands.)
The news was made public on a mailing list for those involved with IEEE 802.16 by Roger Marks, the working group’s chair.
The dispute has risen to a level the Wall Street Journal notices: The Journal and other sources report that the 802.20 working group, which is devising a plan for mobile broadband wireless, is embroiled in conflict over Qualcomm’s participation through third parties. The chair Jerry Upton, the Journal states, has “disclosed” that he is a paid consultant for Qualcomm. This was unknown prior to recent coverage, and is highly irregular.
Intel and other parties are alleging improper voting activity by a group that is voting in a bloc. The chair of the IEEE made mention of a “lack of transparency” in company affiliation among other issues.
802.20 is considering Flarion’s method of using OFDM, similar to WiMax, for cellular network evolution. Qualcomm purchased Flarion last year. Qualcomm says that it is hedging 802.20 against its own CDMA technology to provide a sort of diversity in case the tide turns against CDMA.
Qualcomm has signed with Soma the first licensing deal for its portfolio of what it claims are patents covering WiMax technology: My good friend and colleague Nancy Gohring writes for IDG News Service that Qualcomm acquired these patents as part of its purchase of Flarion Technologies. Flarion has pursued broadband wireless via a standard developing in 802.20 (mobile broadband wireless access), while WiMax emerged out of the 802.16 working group (broadband wireless access). Mobility was inserted into WiMax via 802.16e (now 802.16-2005), which covers fixed, nomadic/portable, and mobile broadband.
Qualcomm wouldn’t comment for the story, but analysts expect this unnecessary public announcement was a shot across the bow to signal their intent. Alvarion says in this report that they and other industry leaders believe Qualcomm’s patents aren’t relevant to WiMax.
The basis for what will be mobile WiMax was approved by the IEEE today: Om Malik notes that with the standard done, the hard part is developing hardware and replicating cellular infrastructure. As Jeffrey Belk of Qualcomm wrote in a white paper a few weeks ago, the many challenges that face rolling out 3G cellular networks, from spectrum availability to real-estate rights for transmitters, equally apply to mobile WiMax. Add to that, that it’s a new standard without the real-world evolution that’s happened in the cell world, and there’s going to be a long lag between today and real, functioning, interoperable mobile WiMax equipment.
Over the next two to three years, however, we’ll be reading stories every week in the mainstream press that continue to conflate the abilities of fixed WiMax—something cell carriers are tremendously interested in for licensed use to backhaul tower traffic—and mobile WiMax. Fixed WiMax doesn’t operate in moving vehicles dozens of miles from a base station running at 72 Mbps. It can run fast, far, and mostly static, and not all three: you get fast when you’re close up and slow when you’re far away.
TechDirt is saying it will be 2008 before we see anything resembling real mobile WiMax given the timetable that took fixed WiMax from 802.16 standards work to a ratified proposal to the very first stages of certification that don’t offer real interoperable benefits today.
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.
Proxim put out a press release stating that they’re expecting certification of devices this month: But they didn’t say that theirs had already passed or give a date. Other WiMax vendors, notably Alvarion, say that this first certification won’t provide meaningful benchmarks for carrier-grade performance, focusing instead on basic functionality not interoperability or operational parameters.
Unstrung reports that the Task Group E in 802.16 for mobile broadband wireless is nearly done: The current draft could come back clean, which would then lead the way to ratification. 802.16e will most likely be the basis of mobile WiMax, allowing the WiMax Forum to certify equipment that will compete with mesh Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi hotspots, and third-generation cellular data networks.
The current prediction is late 2006 for products based on 802.16e, but given delays in WiMax development and certification, I would believe the whispers about 2007 to 2008 timeframe, instead. This protocol is one reason why cell carriers are spending so much to deploy high-speed data ahead of the market’s interest in their licensed spectrum.
China and Japan are working together to develop what they hope will become a worldwide standard: Both countries have a history of creating and using technologies that are different then the rest of the world, sometimes in hopes of setting a worldwide standard. Last year, the government in China mandated that Wi-Fi gear used in the country use a home-grown security standard. The government later relented. Japan has a history of using proprietary wireless standards, often because the market there is so advanced that it seems operators can’t bear to wait for worldwide standards to be set. This most recent 4G push may be an effort by the countries to try to keep a bigger chunk of potential revenues from the potentially huge future so-called 4G market within their borders, rather then paying European and U.S. companies for intellectual property and gear.
Any 4G technology is almost certain to be based on OFDM. It’s unclear at this early stage how WiMax might fit into a 4G future.
The WiMax Forum said it is on schedule to begin certifying products. The lab will open in July and the forum expects the first certified products to hit the market in November or December. The initial products to be certified are TDD and FDD versions of 3.5 GHz gear. The announcement was made after the forum’s quarterly meeting in Spain.
The forum also expanded on its agreement to work with ETSI. I suspect this alliance is aimed at the forum’s attempts at ensuring that the 2.5 GHz band, to be allocated in Europe by 2008, can be used for WiMax but I’m not sure I’m reading between the lines of this press release well enough.
Perhaps one of the most significant items of the announcement is that all Korean operators have joined the WiMax Forum and Samsung has become a member of the board. Also, it’s official: WiBro products will be WiMax certified. WiBro is the homegrown mobile broadband wireless technology developed in Korea. It was originally incompatible with WiMax, but recently the teams have been working together and it has been understood that WiBro and WiMax will be compatible once the mobile 802.16e version of WiMax is standardized. It appears that this is the official announcement that the two will be compatible. There is no mention specifically of 802.16e but I’m assuming that the interoperability between WiBro and WiMax can’t happen until 802.16e.
The press release is likely to become available here.
The WiMax Forum said it plans to work with ETSI on regulatory and technical requirements: ETSI is the European non-profit institute that makes telecom standards and works toward global harmonization. The 3GPP was started by ETSI. The 3GPP decides on the technologies that can be used within a certain frequency band and individual regulatory bodies often decide to take the 3GPP recommendations. For example, IPWireless’ technology is part of the 3GPP family of standards so most European countries allow 3G spectrum owners to deploy IPWireless technology. WiMax is not part of the 3GPP family so in most European countries a 3G operator would not be allowed to deploy WiMax.
This cooperation between the WiMax Forum and ETSI could be helpful in the WiMax industry’s efforts to ensure that the 2.5 GHz band can be used for WiMax. The European countries plan to allocate the 2.5 GHz band by 2008 but they haven’t yet decided which technologies they’ll allow there. The 2.5 GHz band was originally promised as a 3G extension band and so the powerful mobile operators are lobbying hard to prevent that band from being used by WiMax operators.
The Register reports that 802.16e was the focus at the WiMax Summit in Paris: The mobile version of WiMax seems to be getting a lot of attention these days. That’s ironic, given that mobility was an afterthought to the original intent to develop the WiMax standard. However, it appears that now 802.16d developers are working on adding extra capabilities to their initial products in an effort to drive interest in them prior to the introduction of 802.16e. Proprietary extensions always can threaten the benefits of having a standard because they usually don’t allow for interoperability. WiMax vendors will have to be careful about that or risk losing momentum. The story also reports that many of the chip vendors are working to ensure that their current chips will be software upgradeable to 802.16e.
Unstrung has run an article looking at the shortcomings of the WiMax standard: The piece notes that the standard doesn’t support a specific method for delivering voice over IP, for example. Vendors will have to implement that support in their own manner.
Some of the shortcomings mentioned in this piece might be a problem if operators were actually expecting to mix and match customer premise equipment and base stations from different vendors. The feedback I’ve been getting is that for the first version of WiMax, which will be fixed, operators are expecting to have to use CPEs from their base station vendor. This really isn’t an issue for a fixed service. Operators can still buy from various vendors, they’ll just have to be sure that customers get a CPE from the vendor that supplies the base station they’ll communicate with. But interoperability that supports all promised services becomes important with a portable or mobile version because customers will have to receive a seamless service no matter which base station they attach to.