Nortel claims a fatter WiMax pipe

With some vendors and service providers looking to WiMax as the next big acceleration in wireless, Nortel Networks Corp. says it has a supercharged version of that system.

At the WiMax World trade show in Boston this week, the company is demonstrating WiMax products that use multiple antennas, which the company claims can bring three times the speed and twice the subscriber capacity of conventional WiMax products. That means service providers need fewer base stations and can set up a network across a metropolitan or rural area for less money, while also improving the subscribers’ service, according to the company.

Nortel, in Brampton, Ontario, is a major vendor of network infrastructure.

On the client side, it announced collaboration with Runcom Technologies Ltd., an Israeli maker of WiMax device chips that use the same multiple-antenna approach, called MIMO (multiple in, multiple out). A similar technology is at the heart of IEEE 802.11n, the upcoming standard for faster Wi-Fi.

WiMax is a high-speed wireless data technology designed for coverage over several kilometers or miles and speed comparable to consumer wired broadband, though its exact speed can vary depending on how it is deployed. Intel Corp. and, more recently, Sprint Nextel Corp. have provided major backing to the technology, specifically to an emerging form of WiMax that can be used while in motion. Sprint plans to start deploying mobile WiMax late next year as a 4G (fourth-generation) technology to supplement the 3G cellular network is already has throughout the U.S.

Using more than one antenna in both the base station and the client device, with multiple input and output paths simultaneously, Nortel aims to give service providers a more efficient way to reach subscribers. In addition to higher speed and capacity, MIMO can offer a longer range and better indoor coverage, the company claims.

The MIMO gear, scheduled for commercial shipment in mid-2007, will be Nortel’s first mobile WiMax products, said Bruce Gustafson, director of marketing for WiMax. The company currently puts its brand on products from another vendor for the fixed version of WiMax. The MIMO gear will work with any equipment that complies with the mobile WiMax standard, called IEEE 802.16e, though without MIMO clients it will benefit only the carrier, through being able to serve twice as many customers, Gustafson said.

With MIMO on both ends, subscribers can also benefit, with better and faster connections, he said. Devices will also have longer battery life because they won’t have to work as hard to make a connection with the network, Gustafson said.

In its WiMax strategy, Nortel aims to enable IPTV (Internet Protocol television) and VOIP (voice over IP) as well as data services. Along with Runcom, it said is working to solve transmission interruptions and delays that can stymie these types of traffic. One example of IPTV over mobile WiMax might be transmitting video to in-car LCD screens on seatbacks, Gustafson said.

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