It's been just over a year since WiMAX made its big debut in the United States and we're already looking at a sequel.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is expected this summer to provide final approval for the 802.16m standard, also known as "WiMAX 2." U.S. ISP Clearwire, currently the largest company to offer commercial WiMAX services in the United States, has said it plans on testing out 802.16m sometime next year in the hopes of deploying it in 2012.
So what do we know about this WiMAX sequel? Well for one, it will be backward compatible with 802.16e, the WiMAX standard currently used by operators in the United States. This means that when Clearwire upgrades to the new standard it will be able to do so at a relatively low cost and with minimal disruption.
We also know that 802.16m will be significantly faster than its predecessor. WiMAX forum vice president Mohammad Shakouri says the goal is for the new WiMAX standard to deliver average downlink speeds of more than 100Mbps to users. In contrast, Sprint's initial Xohm WiMAX offering, which debuted commercially in 2008, delivered downlink speeds ranging between 3.7M to 5Mbps.
Shakouri says 802.16m delivers these higher speeds through a combination of using smart antenna technology and using a multi-channel approach.
"Think of it like you're building a 20-lane highway," says Shakouri, describing how 802.16m can use multiple channels to deliver data. "While it would be complicated to build out 20 lanes on the same highway, you could instead use two 10-lane highways or four five-lane highways. So this is how you can get higher data rates by using a combination of multiple channels."
But while the new WiMAX standard gives the technology a major speed boost, Shakouri says that it won't propagate any farther than current WiMAX technology that covers around 31 square miles per access point.
"The focus of 802.16m is on how to get a higher capacity data rate to the same amount of users today,” he explains.
The WiMAX Forum is working on an 802.16m certification profile for developers that it hopes to have up and running by the time IEEE finalizes the standard in September. If all goes according to plan, Shakouri says we should start to see WiMAX 2 devices hit the market one year later.
"The same thing happened with 802.16e, it took about a year after certification to get devices out," he says. "So most of the industry expects you'll be able to get network devices in the second half of 2011."