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Sun 21 Aug 2005 04:00 AM

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Network Middle East newsletter

With a WiMax certification lab opening in Europe, standardised products are expected by the end of the year but doubts remain about the most hyped wireless technology in recent memory.

An end to the WiMax waffle?|~||~||~|After enduring a lot of hype, IT professionals are finally starting to see concrete results with WiMax. The WiMax Forum has begun certification for 802.16-2004-based products, which means that compliant solutions should be available by the end of the year. Indeed, vendors are already shipping WiMax components with Infonetics Research recording more than US$16 million of WiMax equipment sales in 2004, with the figure is projected to grow to US$124.5 million in 2005.

802.16-2004-based products are already on the market but this certification will provide more benefits than simply a sticker that says WiMax compatible. Standards provide customers with leverage and prevent lock-in to a particular vendor. With the certification, a customer can be sure that he can mix and match equipment without loss of performance. An additional and not so obvious benefit is that the certification process is quite difficult and expensive. This means it should help weed out those start-ups too weak to pass or too cheap to take the certification.

It all adds up to good news for the region, where the ability to drop a high speed, easy to install and relatively cheap wireless network into areas with limited infrastructure makes WiMax a very interesting proposition.

But while certification is a welcome move, how enticing is it to those companies that have deployed pre-WiMax solutions? Many vendors have released solutions with WiMax-like specifications but no guaranteed interoperability and these have seen some traction. If a company has a pre-WiMax solution it is happy with, it is unlikely to mix and match products at this early stage and upgrading to achieve WiMax compliance could be expensive. If it comes down to a firmware upgrade, it is likely to be justifiable, but if it requires a hardware upgrade, many companies may prefer to stay proprietary for the time being.

Despite the benefits of WiMax, there are also doubts about the 802.16-2004 standard, which is somewhat overshadowed by the next WiMax standard on the development line — 802.16e. The 802.16-2004 standard is limited. As a fixed wireless standard, it does not support mobile applications, which form the bulk of the most lucrative-looking WiMax possibilities. The mobile WiMax standard 802.16e is expected to be ratified by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) by the end of the year, although compliant products are not expected until 2006 or 2007. The 802.16e standard is more flexible than 802.16-2004 and will offer major enhancements such as non line of sight performance. This means that antennae can be located indoors, unlike the 802.16-2004 standard receivers which must be outdoors.

This begs the question; why invest in 802.16-2004 products now, when products based on a better standard will be available soon after? It also places great emphasis on vendors to provide an upgrade path to 802.16e technology, but even so, no installer would relish swapping out an implementation just one or two years after it is installed. The relatively short waiting time for 802.16e might seriously damage 802.16-2004’s prospects.

True those operators who want to use WiMax for backhaul, can proceed with 802.16-2004 without losing sleep but for last mile and of course mobile applications 802.16e holds all the cards. While the short wait for 802.16e might be fatal to 802.16-2004, the delay could be long enough to dent the hopes of WiMax as a whole. If mobile WiMax solutions are only available in 2007 that gives 3G vendors two years to come up with an alternative. Plus if 802.16-2004 underwhelms end users then the hype machine could be derailed before 802.16e has a chance to show what it can do.||**||

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