WiMax wings into the wild world of wireless

IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

Tired of new wireless technologies? Then stop reading. Because here's a story about a new wireless system that could someday eclipse the Wi-Fi service you've just begun to understand.

The technology, called WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access), is winning over plenty of followers while quickly gaining momentum on the standards front -- despite high-profile skeptics such as Texas Instruments Inc. (TI). That was the general consensus of industry experts attending a crowded workshop earlier this week at the Broadband World Forum in Venice.

"According to a study by Juniper Research (Ltd.), only half of all households in Europe will have broadband access by 2008 due to poor or nonexistent cable infrastructure or high-speed line systems being too complicated or expensive to deploy," said Andreas Greil, vice president of product management in the information and communication network division of Siemens AG. "There's a huge opportunity for WiMax to fill this gap."

Some, in fact, view WiMax not only as a wireless alternative to DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), cable and leased line services but also someday as a rival to mobile telephony.

"Never bet against mobility," said John Krzywicki, president of The Management Network Group Inc. (TMNG). "I estimate that a mobile solution for WiMax is only two to three years away."

Such optimism, of course, is to be expected at a broadband conference. But experts here seemed eager to avoid the hype and focus instead on WiMax's progress -- and the challenges that lie head.

WiMax technology, based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' 802.16 standard, can extend broadband wireless over longer distances and at higher speeds than current Wi-Fi or Bluetooth systems. Its access range, for instance, is up to around 30 miles (48 kilometers), compared to Wi-Fi's 300 feet (91 meters) and Bluetooth's 30 feet. It supports data transmission speeds up to 70M bps (bits per second), compared to the popular 802.11b Wi-Fi standard's 11M bps or the 802.11a's 54M bps.

In addition to its distance and speed advantages, WiMax doesn't require line-of-site transmission.

The WiMax Forum, established in 2001 by a number of industry heavyweights, has been working on standards certification and interoperability testing. The first generation WiMax systems, based on the 802.16-2004 standard, could ship as earlier as this year. Alvarion Ltd, in Tel Aviv, Israel, is targeting the second half of 2004 for the delivery of products with chips from Intel Corp., according to Alvarion vice president of marketing Rudy Leser.

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