New wireless spec goes the distance

The high-tech industry may pride itself on innovation, but it’s standardization that drives corporate adoption. This truism, however paradoxical, is obviously not lost on wireless vendors.

Hence the news late last month that Intel joined the World Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) Forum to promote a single standard for Metropolitan Area Networks bodes well for the enterprise as well as for MAN vendors. The WiMAX Forum hopes to do for MANs what the Wi-Fi Alliance is doing for IEEE 802.11x technology, including the oversight of interoperability testing between products.

WiMAX refers to the IEEE 802.16 and .16a spec, a wireless standard with a 31-mile range and peak shared-data rates of 70Mbps. It is being touted as a wireless, last-mile solution where DSL and cable are not available.

The IEEE approved the 802.16a amendment this year, tacking it on to last year’s garden-variety 802.16 standard. The amendment covers the 2GHz to 11GHz frequency range, making it suitable for connection to Wi-Fi hot spots. The original spec called for a frequency between 10GHz to 56GHz — a licensed band.

But it is the push to have all MAN vendors adopt a single IEEE standard that has major manufacturers, including silicon giant Intel, willing to get on board. “Having a standard in place means someone can sell silicon to ten equipment makers rather than (make) a massive investment in one-offs. The same is true for network management software vendors,” says Margaret LaBrecque, an Intel employee and the new president of WiMAX.

Jeff Orr is a product manager at Proxim Inc., a maker of WiFi and MAN equipment. As Proxim’s representative on the WiMAX Forum, Orr predicts that the first IEEE 802.16 and .16a chipsets will be available next year, with products shipping in early 2005.