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The overall concept of metropolitan-area wireless networking, as envisioned with 802.16, begins with what's called fixed wireless. Here, a backbone of base stations is connected to a public network, and each base station supports hundreds of fixed subscriber stations, which can be both public Wi-Fi "hot spots" and firewalled enterprise networks. The base stations would use the Media Access Control layer defined in the standard—a common interface that makes the networks interoperable—and would allocate uplink and downlink bandwidth to subscribers according to their needs, on an essentially real-time basis.

Later in the development cycle, with 802.16e, WiMax is expected to support mobile wireless technology—that is, wireless transmissions directly to mobile end users. This will be similar in function to the General Packet Radio Service and the "one times" radio transmission technology (1xRTT) offered by phone companies.

Intel has now promised WiMax versions of its Centrino chip set for 2004, whereas Nokia says it will have battery and other technical issues solved in time to launch a WiMax cell phone in 2005.

Following on the heels of WiMax is another standard, IEEE 802.20, which addresses wide-area wireless networks and is currently under development; no products supporting 802.20 are expected before 2006.

The Promise

The Washington-based Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association reports that in 2000, there were upwards of 109 million cellular subscribers—compared with 58 million residential wired telephone lines (according to U.S. government data). If we consider that part of the telecommunications industry to be an indicator of what's to come in data networking, it's likely that in a few years, much of the Internet's traffic will be carried over the air via WiMax and its descendants, not over copper wires or optical fiber.

Visant Strategies Inc., a market research firm in Kings Park, N.Y., predicts that WiMax product sales will reach $1 billion by 2008. According to Oyster Bay, N.Y.-based ABI Research, the market for long-range wireless products based on 802.16 and the forthcoming 802.20 standard will reach $1.5 billion by 2008.


ETSI: European Telecommunications Standards InstituteHIPERLAN: High Performance Radio LANHIPERMAN: High Performance Radio Metropolitan-Area NetworkHIPERPAN: High Performance Radio Personal-Area NetworkHIPERACCESS: High Performance Radio Access3GPP: 3rd Generation Partnership ProjectEDGE: Enhanced data rates for GSM evolution
IEEE 802.20 (proposed)WAN3GPP, EDGE
Source: WiMax Forum

Kay is a Computerworld contributing writer. You can reach him at russkay@charter.net.

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Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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