MAN Evolves with Wireless Standard 802.16

Friday May 2nd 2003 by Michael Singer
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FEATURE: Groups like WiMAX are looking to take hotspots to the 'Metro' level with IEEE's latest approved wireless standard sans the alphabet soup.

A new wireless standard is beginning to capture the attention of carriers hoping to cash in on the Wi-Fi craze and it won't be long before it takes over entire buildings and cites.

Unlike its sleek sounding and highly consumer proliferated cousin 802.11, IEEE wireless metropolitan area network (MAN) standard 802.16 is designed more for fixed Broadband Wireless Access (BWA), which could provide network access support to buildings with speeds close to that of high-speed fiber optic networks.

Originally ratified back in April 2002, 802.16 had its first amendment -- 802.16a -- approved in January 2003 to help get around the line-of-sight issues.

The original standard specifies the WirelessMAN-SC air interface, a single-carrier (SC) modulation scheme designed to operate in the 10-66 GHz spectrum. That spectrum supports continuously varying traffic levels at many licensed frequencies (including 10.5, 25, 26, 31, 38 and 39 GHz) for two-way communications.

Wireless Internet services providers (WISPs), nationwide and multinational carriers, and independent telephone companies are expected to be major customers of equipment developed under the standard.

But with some of the first certified products expected to reach the market in the second half of 2004, the race is on to add Wi-MAN to a company's wireless arsenal.

WiMAX Formed
In the same way that the Wi-Fi Alliance (previously the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance or WECA) rallied vendors to meet interoperability standards, a new group sprouted wings last year to help keep carriers on the same page.

Invigorated by the addition of Intel , WiMax Forum is a non-profit group formed to certify and promote the developing wireless broadband standard.

WiMAX president Margaret LaBrecque told internetnews.com the group expects to see 802.16a products appearing on the market in the second half of 2004.

"In terms of the standard, 802.16 it was designed last mile carrier class solution and will be great for both business customers and residential users," LaBrecque said. "In a metro area incumbent carriers could introduce and adjust bandwidth for customers easily. We are already seeing it used in Boston with a service provider called PowerStream. The company is servicing the Big Dig with 802.16 set ups, which is needed to give the crews access every time the site moves."

Along with Intel, the WiMAX Forum membership includes Airspan Networks, Aperto Networks, Ensemble Communications, Fujitsu, Nokia, OFDM Forum, Proxim and Wi-LAN.

"We're using ITU and ISO methods for conformance tests first," LaBreque said. "The thing that has to follow next is that interoperability groups and vendors get together. The issues will have to be worked out over time. We think we have a good set of companies going into the project.

LaBrecque says about 70 more companies have applications for compatibility in the pipeline.

"The criteria is that they support the 802.16 standard," LaBrecque said. Our principle members must be developing with intent to ship the products. Our regular members only have to announce support or intent to deploy WirelessMAN."

Continued on page 2 with: Not Your Same 'Ole Alphabet Soup

Not Your Same 'Ole Alphabet Soup
WirelessMAN will not be taking the same jumbled A-to-Z approach as 802.11, IEEE 802.16 Working Group chair Dr. Roger B. Marks told internetnews.com.

"We are trying to avoid referring to them by their letter," he said. "At the moment we're not really going out to create something that you would sell to consumers. 802.16 is about base stations that connect the core networks as part of serious investments and it will be a different kind of business, so we don't really need to identify the separate amendments."

But there are differences between the amendments that address a carriers' individual needs.

The overall vision for 802.16 is that carriers would set up base stations connected to a public network. Each base station would support hundreds of fixed subscriber stations, probably mounted on rooftops. The base stations would then use the standard's medium access control layer (MAC) -- a common interface that makes the networks interoperable -- to nearly instantaneously allocate uplink and downlink bandwidth to subscribers according to their needs.

Conceivably, 802.16 MANs could anchor 802.11 hotspots, which serve as wireless local area networks (LANs), as well as servicing end-users directly.

However, the 10-66 GHz spectrum is strictly line-of-sight. That's where the 802.16a amendment comes in. The amendment addresses the low-frequency 2-11 GHz spectrum, some of which is unlicensed, and which allows for non-line-of-sight operation.

802.16c has also been published. That amendment relates to protocols, test suite structures and test purposes. Similarly, 802.16d focuses on fixing the errata and other protocols not covered by 802.11c.

Expected to be complete by the end of 2003, 802.16e will introduce mobility into stationary wireless. A user will be able to move about in an 802.16e coverage area and remain connected.

Navini, an Intel-funded wireless broadband vendor, is looking to 802.20 -- a WirelessMAN variant -- to provide both mobility and the ability to roam between base stations.

And while 802.16 is a backend technology, Marks says in the future, 802.16e has the capacity to be adapted for individual computers.

"One of the reasons is that might happen is that we have QOS support," Marks said. "The nice thing about 802.16 is it can handle time sensitive information like voice. Intel has been very active in the process. The talks that I've seen Intel people give have been mostly the kind of 16 and 11 compatibility."

So will we see a Centrino chipset with 802.16 embedded any time soon? Perhaps, but Intel said they haven't publicly announced any products or plans to include the technology.

And because of its carrier-grade capacity, Marks says the U.S. Department of Commerce is very interested in supporting the standard.

"They're interested in 802.16 because of the increased broadband deployment," he said.

That kind of interest is of great interest to WiMAX considering current estimates show growth of broadband access is slowing down from a 40 percent rate of growth this year to a 15 percent rate of growth in 2004.

"If there are more viable ways of deploying broadband, that is great news for us," LaBrecque said. "Most people who want broadband access want broadband access without having to worry about cable or DSL and that is where it is going for us."

Editor's note: internetnews.com editor Thor Olavsrud contributed to this report.

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