February 2008 | Volume 11/ Number 2
Will 2008 be “The Year of WiMAX”
By: Richard “Zippy” Grigonis
A recent search of my inbox for “WiMAX” lists 4,037 hits over the past couple of years’ worth of email newsletters. Surely WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) is the hottest wireless broadband technology that you’re heard about yet haven’t used. Sprint Nextel had teamed up with Clearwire Corp. to jointly build a $5 billion WiMAX network that would that would reach its first 100 million subscribers by the end of 2008, but that deal fell apart. Still, after pondering whether to spin off its WiMAX assets, Sprint decided to soldier on. Sprint and its Xohm Alliance of network partners continues to build the WiMAX network, with an upcoming test launch of pre-commercial service in Chicago, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and with a bigger rollout planned to once again reach for those 100 million potential customers by year-end 2008.
Sprint even announced it was working with Google (isn’t everybody these days?) to bring WiMAX mobile Internet customers search, interactive and social networking tools via an innovative new mobile portal.
The original Fixed WiMAX standard (IEEE 802.16-2004) has given way to the IEEE 802.16-2005 standard (more commonly known as 802.16e) which adds mobility and other neat technologies such as Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) for improved radio interface performance, along with better security and Quality of Service (QoS).
Certainly the potential market is immense for a genuinely high bandwidth (5 to 10 Mbps) wireless IP-based broadband service resembling a sort of long-range, super WiFi . Estimates of the Asia Pacific market suggest that the subscriber base there will grow to over 3.8 million by 2009, 45 percent of the world total, their WiMAX equipment spending equaling US$1,988.2 million.
As we were going to press, Asus, Intel , and Sprint made a joint announcement, with Asus debuting a new version of its diminutive Eee PC along with a bevy of Intel WiMAX chipsets for all sorts of next-gen mobile solutions.
Moreover, PC makers Acer, Asus, Lenovo, Panasonic and Toshiba have expressed intent to embed WiMAX chipsets into their next-gen Intel Centrino-based laptops and ultra mobile PCs in 2008, to connect to the upcoming Xohm WiMAX network. Forthcoming Nokia Internet tablet devices will incorporate Intel WiMAX chips. Trellia Networks Inc. of Montreal, Canada will provide a multi-communication connection manager software client for Xohm network access devices.
And Motorola announced their CPEi 100 WiMAX desktop device, a single data port, 2.5 GHz plug-and-play solution for WiMAX operators wanting to offer their customers wireless broadband Internet connectivity. The device sits on your desktop and serves as the interface between a PC and the WiMAX network. Motorola’s wi4 WiMAX solutions are designed to support fixed, portable, nomadic and mobile applications.
Behind Every Great Protocol is a Chipset
Long before Intel announced its WiMAX silicon, Beceem (http://www.beceem.com) was providing high performance chipset solutions for the Mobile WiMAX market, and was the first company to introduce terminal chipsets for the Wave 1 and Wave 2 WiMAX Forum profiles based on the IEEE 802.16e-2005 Mobile WiMAX standard.
Lars Johnsson, Beceem’s Vice President of Business Development, says, “Despite all of the ‘overhanging issues’ and the rumblings around Sprint and WiMAX, technically the Sprint/Xohm team is executing on schedule. To my best understanding, this has been the case for quite a while. In order to launch commercially in Q2 2008 they would be doing a softlaunch with a pre-commercial system at the end of 2007, and that’s exactly what has happened.”
“Our news relates directly to the Sprint news in that we have passed and met all of the Sprint requirements and tests for the network launch with our chipset,” says Johnsson. “We received a quote and an endorsement from Sprint in that they’ve congratulated us on our achievement in being the first to provide our Mobile WiMAX chipsets. And that ties in very nicely with Sprint’s own declaration of progress and readiness. We at Beceem have always felt very good about our enabling position in the terminal ecosystem with respect to Sprint. We have a more than two-year relationship with Samsung going back to the WiBro demonstrations of 2005, when they chose our chipset. They’ve also invested in Beceem. We have a two-year relationship with Motorola, which is commercially using our chipsets to develop their own basestation and are doing interoperability testing, as is Samsung.”
“So we have a tremendous amount of field experience in the Mobile WiMAX domain and we have it with some of the key OEMs in the space,” says Johnsson. “Not only Samsung and Motorola, but also Alcatel Lucent, Nortel, NEC , ZT in China, Alvarion and some other companies. Any network built by any one of those OEMs can be served by our chipsets.”
“The WiMAX ecosystem is very open and very competitive on many levels and there are other chipmakers out there such as Intel building a WiMAX chip,” says Johnsson. “We, of course, are now in our third generation of chips. We have the world’s first Wave 1, the first Wave 2 and now we’re the first to pass Sprint testing. For the time being, our chip has been proven against Sprint’s requirements and that has been publicly acknowledged by Sprint. That doesn’t mean that they want equipment with our chipsets exclusively, though we would certainly like that. But this kind of validation does help us with our device vendor customers, because it makes it easier for them to select our chipset for use in their equipment.”
“If you live in one of the 10 or 20 cities that will be covered by Sprint’s WiMAX network in 2008, it will be like you can access WiFi anywhere,” says Johnsson. “For those who think CDMA EVDO is better because it has more coverage, consider that we and others are working on dual-mode solutions. There will be devices that use WiMAX wherever it is available and then if it isn’t available the device will revert to existing CDMA EVDO wireless broadband access. So you won’t be ‘hot’ or ‘cold’. You’ll be either ‘hot’ or ‘warm’.”
“What Sprint is doing is to create a lot of excitement and energy in this market,” says Johnsson, “and they’ll accelerate the roadmaps as well as new device introductions that offer higher speed data capabilities and also a user interface that can take advantage of it. It’s all actually coming together very nicely.”
Companies such as Nortel are ready for WiMAX, with its end-to-end solution. Regina Moldovan, Senior Manager for Nortel’s WiMAX & Mesh Marketing Team, says, “At a macro level, I think this entire market is exciting and crazy all at once. There’s no way to predict what will happen. But the one thing I can tell you is that there’s still more of a rollercoaster to come. I would not be least surprised if there are new major entrants that take up the market very soon. 2008 should be very interesting.”
“Nortel is basically hunkering down,” says Moldovan. “2008 is the year that we’re going to be delivering our products to customers. We’re readying some launches for 1Q 2008. We continue to expand our work on the ecosystem front. That’s an area that’s really critical to make the business case for service providers and operators in this space. So we continue to work with our partners to expand that and we continue to aggressively expand our own plans in that space. So you’ll definitely see more things appearing from Nortel. Our pride and joy concerns the access equipment. We have base stations and an ASN [Access Service Network] gateway .”
Nortel’s ASN Gateway supports fixed and mobile networks, centralized and distributed architectures, wide area and cross-technology mobility, and enables wholesaling of WiMAX services to tenants for incremental revenue opportunities.
Aricent (http://www.aricent.com) makes the SigASN, a platform-independent Signaling Module and that forms the core component of a WiMAX ASN Gateway. Aricent’s off-the-shelf solution enables Telecommunication Equipment Manufacturers (TEMs) to quickly develop WiMAX (802.16e) ASN Gateways. Indeed, in 2007, Aricent’s SigASN WiMAX Gateway software was demonstrated running on a RadiSys Promentum ATCA SYS-6010 rackmount computer, which was the industry’s first generally available 10 Gbps platform for high-bandwidth network element and data plane applications, such as WiMAX ASN Gateways, 3G Radio Network Controllers/Base Station Controllers, IPTV infrastructure and IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) compliant media gateways, application servers and media servers/MRFPs.
Starent Networks (http://www.starentnetworks.com) offers an ASN Gateway/Home Agent subscriber mobility access gateway for Mobile WiMAX radio access networks. Their ASN Gateway supports connection management and mobility across cell sites and inter-service provider network boundaries through processing of subscriber control and bearer data traffic. The ASN Gateway serves as the Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP) authenticator for subscriber identity and acts as a RADIUS client to the operator’s AAA servers.
One thing is certain. Vendors are serious about WiMAX. In 2007 wireless broadband pioneer SR Telecom (http://www.srtelecom.com) went so far as to sell its legacy SR 500 and Airstar product lines to the Duons Group in France so it could focus on developing and promoting its WiMAX Forum-certified symmetryMX product line. IT
Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group.
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