When WiMax products become available in 2006, they’ll serve the same purpose as a router, providing the backbone access to a location. Individual users will connect to the WiMax modem via a wired Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection. The prospect of mobile users connecting to WiMax hot zones directly is still years away, however, and some analysts urge customers not to hold their collective breath.
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One problem is that the IEEE 802.16e standard, which enables mobile access to WiMax networks, is still about a year away from approval. Adding to the confusion -- and despite vendor hype -- genuine, standards-compliant hardware has yet to appear, even for fixed WiMax (the approved IEEE 802.16d standard).
When vendors first delivered hardware based on the IEEE 802.11b standard, different products often weren’t compatible -- a fatal flaw for a network technology. So an industry consortium, the Wi-Fi Alliance, developed interoperability standards and certified compliance by licensing the Wi-Fi label, giving customers assurance that labeled devices would work together.
As the IEEE 802.16d standard for fixed WiMax neared completion last year, it became clear that history could repeat itself if vendors interpret the standard differently from each other. So a new industry association -- the WiMax Forum -- planned to do the same as the Wi-Fi Alliance, by licensing the official WiMax label for products that passed interoperability testing. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked.
Vendors are already selling products labeled WiMax, even though the WiMax Forum hasn’t completed interoperability testing. “All current solutions are pre-standard WiMax,” warns Mo Shakouri, the forum’s vice president of marketing. Products that pass WiMax testing will bear the label “WiMax Forum Certified,” Shakouri says, adding, “WiMax Forum Certified products currently don’t exist anywhere in the world.”
If you’ll come, will they build it?
After the standards have crystallized, WiMax networks could start appearing in select markets. First, though, the carriers will need a reason to deploy it; an unlikely decision, given that their existing 3G networks will offer similar performance, says Roger Entner, an analyst at the telecom research firm Ovum. “WiMax is just another technology doing the same thing as 3G,” Entner explains. Deploying comparable WiMax coverage could cost from $5 billion to $15 billion.
“A carrier that has already deployed 3G will probably not deploy WiMax,” says Mark Whitton, vice president for WiMax and wireless mesh products at Nortel Networks, which provides both 3G and OFDM equipment to carriers.