WiMax testing nears starting blocks

The WiMax Forum should finish validating its system for certification testing next week, a senior official said Monday, the latest milestone on the road to a technology that at times has suffered from overly optimistic expectations.

Some vendors already have products at the Cetecom lab in Malaga, Spain, where certification will take place, but the past few weeks have been taken up by validation of the test scripts and test equipment, along with informal testing, said Gordon Antonello, senior technical advisor at Wi-LAN Inc. and chairman of the WiMax Forum Technical Working Group. Next week, that stage should be finished, he said.

The WiMax Forum expects formal testing to begin in October, according to Mo Shakouri, vice president and a board member of the group. It hopes to have the first products certified before the end of the year, he said.

The form of WiMax heading into testing now is based on the IEEE 802.16-2004 specification and designed for services to fixed clients. Key applications are expected to be wireless network backhaul and alternatives to DSL (digital subscriber line) and cable modem services.

Over the past two years, forecasts of when fixed WiMax might become available have shifted outward. For example, in January 2004 a WiMax Forum executive said the group might begin certifying products in the first quarter of 2005.

Meanwhile, WiMax evangelist Intel Corp. and many system vendors and service providers have predicted a bigger market in a mobile form of WiMax expected to hit the market in 2007. The standard for mobile WiMax, called IEEE 802.16e, should be completed by November, according to Antonello.

Though the WiMax Forum is standing by its expectation of finishing the first round of testing by this year’s end, an executive at one would-be WiMax vendor questioned that timing.

Certified products won’t be out until the first half of next year, in the view of Carlton O’Neal, vice president of marketing on the North American team of Tel Aviv-based Alvarion Ltd. The WiMax Forum’s forecast of completing the process by year’s end is unrealistic given that these would be the first products tested against the standard and made to work with each other, he said.

“I’m optimistic. That’s grossly optimistic,” O’Neal said.

“If you don’t pass everything, you will need to tweak your box, and the tweaking of your box is not a fast thing to do,” he said, adding that this applies to software as well as hardware modifications. Alvarion has not yet sent products to Cetecom because formal testing hasn’t begun, he said.

However, another vendor is standing firm on its forecast. Aperto Networks Inc. believes it will have certified products out by the end of the year, said Dean Chang, director of product marketing at the Milpitas, California, company. Informal interoperability testing that began last month at Cetecom should slice the time required for formal testing, he said.

“To me, it’s all testing, whether it’s formal or informal,” Chang said.

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