WiMAX (802.16) – Is It The Next WiFi?

Exec. summ: No, WiMAX is not a WiFi evolution. The IEEE is developing WiMAX for Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) which will have a far greater range and capacity than WiFi, and will use a choice of licensed or unlicensed frequencies from 2GHz to 60GHz (huge range!). This technology, specified as 802.16, was named WiMAX in order to imitate the successful branding of WiFi, and perhaps take a ride on that standard’s coat-tails. While WiMAX is not the same as, and does not compete directly with WiFi, it does compete in the same space as 3G, Flarion, IPWireless, and similar solutions. These are all technologies that seek to bring Broadband Wireless connectivity to a Wide Area. In the linked story, the Toronto Star waxes poetic about Calgary-based Wi-LAN in what appears to be a “local boy makes good” story (local being relative in a country the size of Canada.) Although the company discussed, Wi-LAN, holds important IP Rights and offers a WiMAX solution for MAN infrastructure, the article is too positive. WiMAX is not yet a finished standard, and appears to have a rocky road ahead – there are too many options, frequencies, and variances allowed within the current WiMAX specs to expect (let alone guarantee) interoperability. This means the Wi-LAN solution may as well be considered proprietary. There are also multiple competitors in the space who have made more progress than Wi-LAN, like Flarion with tests in multiple carriers, or IP wireless, with commercial deployments in six countries. IP Wireless has the advantage of being 3GPP standards-compliant. Lastly, the reporter talks about how great it would be to get broadband “not just within your home or a coffee shop but anywhere across a university campus or an entire city”, but a read of the Wi-Lan website reveals that an outdoor, roof-mounted antenna is necessary. Uh…that’s not really a mobile solution.

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