WiMax products are arriving, just as certification tests are about to begin for the broadband wireless specification. A bunch of them converged on Chicago this week for the SuperComm exhibition.

Redline Communications demonstrated the equipment it plans to submit for WiMax Forum testing next month, while Aperto Networks introduced its WiMax line and one major carrier laid out plans for fixed wireless deployments later this year.

Putting WiMax to the test
Testing is set to begin next month for certification of fixed WiMax systems that are based on the IEEE 802.16-2004 standard. That standard is designed for services similar to DSL (digital subscriber line) or cable, as well as for connecting Wi-Fi hot spots to the main carrier line. The networks could send voice, video and data over several miles to client devices in fixed locations such as homes and offices.

Redline is demonstrating the gear it will submit for WiMax interoperability testing next month, including client equipment based on Intel's Pro/Wireless 5116 chip and base stations built around Redline's own silicon. At SuperComm, Redline had base stations receiving video from base stations in downtown Chicago, said Keith Doucet, Redline's vice president of marketing. One of the towers is about 4.5 miles from the convention center and the other is about 1.5 miles away.

Both connections are running at about 25 Mbit/s, Doucet said. An indoor demonstration on the show floor is achieving about the same speed, he said. Commercial WiMax services most likely will be shared among many users who will each have less than 25 Mbit/s, he added.

One of the subscriber units being demonstrated is in the booth of IBM's IBM Global Services business. That company plans to include WiMax among the networks it sets up for service providers and large enterprises, Doucet said.

Redline set up its base stations at points of presence provided by TowerStream, a US national wireless service provider, and is using an experimental 3.5GHz license that TowerStream holds in Chicago. The first WiMax gear to be tested will be equipment that uses the 3.5GHz band, which is available for WiMax use in many countries (and is used by Telabria for a trial in Kent) but not yet in the US.

Aperto introduced its PacketMax line, which includes three different sizes of base stations, a business-class and a consumer-class subscriber station, and an element management system. Aperto will probably charge service providers between US$400 and $600 for each subscriber station, though the providers can offer the products to subscribers free or at a reduced cost, said Alan Menezes, vice president of marketing at Aperto, in Milpitas, California. The company expects to make commercial shipments of WiMax-certified gear for 3.5GHz services in the fourth quarter.

Testing will begin in late July at Cetecom, a networking lab in Spain, Menezes said. There is no scheduled date yet for testing equipment that uses the other two frequencies the WiMax Forum has approved, 2.5GHz and 5.8GHz, he said.

US carriers start to move
Also at Supercomm, BellSouth announced it will begin rolling out a fixed wireless broadband offering called BellSouth FastAccess Internet Service in parts of Athens, Georgia. The service will use pre-WiMax gear from Navini Networks, said BellSouth spokeswoman Nadine Randall. BellSouth is starting with Athens because of the large number of college students in the area, who move frequently, she said. The service is based on a small subscriber device that doesn't require an outdoor antenna and can be moved from one home to another within the service area.

The carrier also sees the service as an alternative to traditional wired broadband in rural communities, suburbs and urban areas where DSL (digital subscriber line) is not available, Randall said. BellSouth plans to extend FastAccess to several cities in Florida later in the year. The service will have speed and price comparable to BellSouth's standard DSL, which costs $32.95 to $42.95 per month for 1.5 Mbit/s, she said. BellSouth plans to migrate to WiMax when it is available, depending partly on Navini's migration plans, Randall said.

Standardisation is good
To TowerStream, which already uses non-WiMax networks for fixed wireless services in several US cities including Chicago, New York and Boston, the interoperability and standardised equipment of WiMax is good news.

"It gives us more vendors, and greater choices for our customers," said Jeff Thompson, founder, chief operating officer and president of TowerStream. The only bump on the road ahead is the need to re-test the new equipment as vendors move to WiMax. "This is kind of a reset button on the whole industry," Thompson said.