WiMAX vendors demo new broadband products at show

"Wave 2" products to extend WiMAX range using MIMO technology

You can't find WiMAX wireless base stations on eBay, but you can find them this week at Boston's World Trade Center, the locus for the annual WiMAX World conference.

The industry love-fest will see the introduction of the latest generation of fixed WiMAX chipsets, base stations and customer-premises subscriber stations. But a lot of the buzz will be around products and promises to support the mobile WiMAX chips and radios due out in 2007.

Fixed WiMAX (IEEE 802.16d) is a standard for broadband wireless. Mobile WiMAX (802.16e) makes changes to that standard to support mobile clients: radios mounted in vehicles or otherwise moving, with seamless handoffs from one base station to another, as cellular voice calls do today. Those changes come with a price: somewhat less throughput than the 1-3Mbps for fixed WiMAX, and less range, a few miles compared to 10-15 miles.

Those restrictions may be offset with the next major advance for 16e, later in 2007 when vendors introduce so-called "Wave 2" products, which will support a technique called multiple input multiple output. MIMO makes it possible to pack more data into a wireless connection and extend its range, partly by the use of multiple antennas.

This year's crop of products are an evolution in the WiMAX market. So vendors are touting base stations designs that can support more users, or be efficiently managed, or embrace additional WiMAX frequency bands, or meet carrier standards for reliability and performance. Another trend is marrying together several wireless technologies into these products, such as 802.11 Wi-Fi for client access, Wi-Fi mesh for backhaul connections, and 4.9 GHz radios for dedicated public safety applications in the United States.

The 16e products being unveiled will be submitted to the WiMAX Forum's certification testing process, which starts in 2007. Last month, the Forum drew 21 vendors to the first public mobile WiMAX "PlugFest," which can be thought as a kind of pick-up practice game of interoperability testing for vendors. Formal testing for 16e interoperability and compliance will start in January 2007.

Among the announcements this week:

-- ADC Wireless will demonstrate live video streaming over its Digivance WMX WiMAX net products; it's unveiling a hardened, outdoor enclosure for its WFX Wi-Fi LAN Array product. The multi-radio nodes have a half-mile range, and up to four wireless backhaul links, each supporting up to 162Mbps according to the vendor.

-- Airspan says it will start shipping in the next three months its HiperMAX base station line, covering a range of frequencies (and still more in the near future) and using either frequency division multiplexing or time division multiplexing. Fixed WiMAX can use either multiplexing scheme, but mobile WiMAX only supports time division duplex. HiperMAX uses a software-defined radio, so operators can use the same platform for either mobile or fixed services.

-- Alvarion also promises to ship its 16e product line, BreezeMAX 2300 and 2500 model base stations, over the next three months. These will support the 2.3- and 2.5-GHz bands available in the United States. Alvarion's mobile package also includes QoS features, multimedia subsystems and other elements to support mobile WiMAX from client device to base station.

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