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WiMax Standards: Slow-But-Steady Progress

Despite progress on standards, it's still unclear when service providers will start offering WiMax or what it will cost.
Developing a new technical standard in the telecommunications field is never an easy process. But the growth of wireless LANs and Wi-Fi hot-spots has shown that there's a huge demand for wireless services that let people connect to the Internet and business networks from anywhere at any time. That has provided equipment makers and service providers with the incentive to cooperate on developing standards for WiMax in order to grow the market.

The WiMax Forum, an industry association, finalized the 802.16d specification for fixed WiMax in June. The standard for mobile WiMax, 802.16e, is nearing completion and is expected to be ratified in June or July.

The forum has been developing procedures and preparing a lab to test fixed WiMax equipment for conformance to the spec and interoperability between gear from different vendors. It hopes to begin testing in July. That testing is taking place six months later than originally planned, giving ammunition to critics who charge that WiMax will never be more than a niche service.

While equipment may gain certification in late summer, it's still unclear when service providers will start offering WiMax services or what those high-speed wireless services will cost. Most experts expect to see the first fixed WiMax offerings later this year or early next year.

For a standardized form of WiMax to become available, network operators must deploy base stations to transmit and receive the signals, and WiMax technology must be integrated into notebook computers, PDAs, and other handheld devices, which takes time. More than 230 equipment manufacturers, network operators, system integrators, chip and component makers, software companies, and communications service providers have joined the forum to bring WiMax to market.

Developing products for mobile WiMax is more challenging since the equipment must be able to maintain a high-speed connection with a person walking down the street or riding in an automobile, without losing the signal. Mohammad Shakouri, a VP and board member of the forum, says it plans to begin certifying mobile WiMax equipment in the fourth quarter of 2006, with initial deployments happening in 2006 and 2007.

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