Wi-LAN goes long with wireless standard

Wireless technologies have taken the communications world by storm. Now with a newly approved standard for outdoor use, mobile interaction can cover an even larger realm, and Calgary, Alta.-based Wi-LAN Inc. is focussing its efforts on fuelling the implementation of the new technology.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in January introduced the new WirelessMAN (WMAN) standard – 802.16a. The protocol addresses the first-mile and last-mile connection in wireless metropolitan area networks (MANs), and employs frequencies between 2GHz and 11GHz.

Unlike 802.11a and 802.11b – protocols for smaller, indoor wireless local area networks (WLANs) – 802.16a is designed for high-speed wireless communications in outdoor environments.

According to Daryl Schooler, senior analyst with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based research firm In-Stat, the new standard is good news. He explained that 802.16a spells greater interoperability between disparate networking boxes, access points and customer premise equipment.

“The chips and different components can be built on a larger scale because they can (now) be built to suit more vendors,” Schooler said. “Now [chip makers] can build the same chipset across the spectrum of network equipment providers, which will also bring down the cost of equipment.”

Wi-LAN plans to do just that. The broadband wireless communications provider recently announced that the IEEE incorporated its patented Wide-band Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (W-OFDM) technology in the WMAN standard. W-OFDM will be integrated into one of the standard’s three alternative physical layers.

According to Wi-LAN, W-OFDM is a transmission scheme that enables data to be encoded on multiple high-speed radio frequencies concurrently. This allows for more efficient use of bandwidth, greater security and increased amounts of data.

Wi-LAN President and CEO Dr. Sayed-Amr El-Hamamsy explained that the company has a head start on the WMAN market. The firm already offers W-OFDM-based products in its LIBRA broadband wireless access portfolio.

“We are, today, selling equipment that in essence has features and characteristics that are very close to 802.16a,” El-Hamamsy said. “What we have to do now is develop our implementation of the standard.”

As part of the development plans, Wi-LAN announced it has signed a deal with Fujitsu Microelectronics America to develop Standard 802.16a System-on-Chip solutions. According to Fujitsu, the goal of the technology partnership is to design these integrated products and offer them at low prices, thus propelling market acceptance of the WMAN standard.

Price has been the major inhibitor for broadband wireless services, according to In-Stat’s Schooler.

“A lot of ISPs don’t even want to touch that market because the customer equipment is pretty expensive,” he said. “If you go with DSL or cable modem, you can probably get all the modems for US$100 or less. If you are going with a wireless system, most stuff out there is list price US$350 to US$400. The standard will drive down prices and…will help service providers get more subscribers onto their systems.”

Wi-LAN’s El-Hamamsy said the company expects to introduce 802.16a-based products as early as 2004. He added, the company has already begun developing WMAN-based mobile applications, including a wireless security camera system for a major rail company. For further information about W-OFDM and WMAN, visit Wi-LAN online at www.wi-lan.com.