You still can't buy WiMax wireless base stations, but there were plenty on show last week at the annual WiMax World conference, in Boston.
The industry love-fest saw the introduction of the latest generation of fixed WiMax chipsets, base stations and customer-premises subscriber stations. But a lot of the buzz was around products and promises to support the mobile WiMax chips and radios (such as those from Intel) due out in 2007.
Fixed WiMax (IEEE 802.16d) is a standard for broadband wireless. Mobile WiMax (802.16e) makes changes to that standard to support mobile clients: radios mounted in vehicles or otherwise moving, with seamless handoffs from one base station to another, as cellular voice calls do today. Those changes come with a price: somewhat less throughput than the 1-3 Mbit/s for fixed WiMax, and less range (a few miles compared to 10-15 miles).
Make way for Wave 2 Those restrictions may be offset with the next major advance for 16e, later in 2007 when vendors introduce so-called "Wave 2" products, which will support a technique called multiple input multiple output. MIMO makes it possible to pack more data into a wireless connection and extend its range, partly by the use of multiple antennas.
This year's crop of products are an evolution in the WiMax market. So vendors are touting base stations designs that can support more users, or be efficiently managed, or embrace additional WiMax frequency bands, or meet carrier standards for reliability and performance. Another trend is marrying together several wireless technologies into these products, such as 802.11 Wi-Fi for client access, Wi-Fi mesh for backhaul connections, and 4.9 GHz radios for dedicated public safety applications in the United States.
Who's doing what? The 16e products being unveiled will be submitted to the WiMax Forum's certification testing process, which starts in 2007. Last month, the Forum drew 21 vendors to the first public mobile WiMax "PlugFest," which can be thought as a kind of pick-up practice game of interoperability testing for vendors. Formal testing for 16e interoperability and compliance will start in January 2007.
Among the announcements last week:
- ADC Wireless demonstrated live video streaming over its Digivance WMX WiMax net products; it unveiled a hardened, outdoor enclosure for its WFX Wi-Fi LAN Array product. The multi-radio nodes have a half-mile range, and up to four wireless backhaul links, each supporting up to 162 Mbit/s according to the vendor.
- Airspan promised to start shipping in the next three months its fixed-or-mobile HiperMAX base station line, covering a range of frequencies (and still more in the near future) and using either frequency division multiplexing or time division multiplexing. Fixed WiMax can use either multiplexing scheme, but mobile WiMax only supports time division. HiperMAX uses a software-defined radio, so operators can use the same platform for either mobile or fixed services.
- Alvarion also promised to ship its 16e product line, BreezeMAX 2300 and 2500 model base stations, within the next three months. These will support the 2.3- and 2.5-GHz bands available in the United States. Alvarion's mobile package also includes QoS features, multimedia subsystems and other elements to support mobile WiMax from client device to base station.
- Aperto Networks explained details of its 16e plans, essentially adapting its PacketMAX 5000 fixed WiMax products to support mobility. Aperto will introduce a 16e blade for the base station to let it support mobile services. The company's WaveCenter network management application now will support 16e base and subscriber stations, in keeping with similar announcements from rivals.
- Eion Wireless selected Wavesat's latest WiMax chipset to power its first WiMax radio products. Eion hasn't said when those products will ship.
- InfiNet Wireless, a Russia-based wireless broadband equipment maker, showed its first crop of WiMax certified equipment, which start shipping by year-end in the 3.5-GHz band, with 2.5 GHz radios due out in early 2007. Dubbed SkyMAN NG (for Next Generation), the new products will include multi-node base stations that can accept not only new WiMax nodes, but also the company's existing mesh and Wi-Fi access radios. Earlier this year, InfiNet announced a new version of its system software to handle this multiplicity of wireless interfaces.
- Sequans Communications, a WiMax semiconductor supplier, unveiled its 16e mobile WiMax chips. The company has focused on creating a chipset that draws minimal power, to be the basis of WiMax clients: PCI Express mini cards, SDIO modules, USB dongles and other form factors, including eventually mobile handsets. Last week, the company showed PCMCIA cards in the 2.3- to 2.7-GHz band, with a 3.5-GHz product due in November. Sequans is using a single-chip WiMax RF transceiver from Maxim as part of its product.
- Stella Doradus, an Irish company specialising in advanced antennas, unveiled what it says is the first solid-state, remote electrical tilt antenna for WiMax base stations. A technician at a central NOC can position the antenna remotely for optimal performance, eliminating the need for expensive and dangerous tower climbs. The antenna design also reduces cell to cell interference by 800 percent, and maintains a uniform signal strength for end users, according to the company.