MAN — it’s cheap and high-speed

MAN — it’s cheap and high-speed

Major chip and wireless equipment manufacturers have announced plans to back development of standards-based wireless metropolitan-area network (MAN) products that can provide 70Mbps of broadband data over a 30-mile range to customers. The equipment needed to access the service could be as cheap as today’s wireless LAN access cards.

The companies, all members of the San Diego-based Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) alliance, said that by basing their products on the IEEE 802.16 wireless MAN standard, they can achieve the same economies of scale seen in WLAN products based on the IEEE 802.11b standard.

WiMAX president, Margaret Labrecque, said alliance companies — that include Airspan Networks, Alvarion, Aperto Networks, Ensemble Communications, Fujitsu, Intel, Nokia, Proxim and Wi-LAN — expected to start shipping products in the second half of 2004.

The 802.16 standard supports operation in a number of licensed and unlicensed frequency bands, including 1GHz to 2GHz. Wi-Fi WLAN gear now in wider use operates in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The 802.16 standard also supports operation in the 10GHz band and from 12GHz to 66GHz.

WiMAX envisions 802.16 products as a cost-effective alternative to current broadband options: telephone company T1 (1.54Mbps) circuits for enterprises and broadband cable service or Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) for small businesses or residences. Wireless base station equipment would cost under $US20,000, Labrecque estimated, with each base station capable of serving 60 enterprise customers with T1 circuits as well as a mix of residential and small business customers at lower DSL-type speeds of 256K or 384Kbps.

Besides these uses, WiMAX also views 802.16-based systems as ideal for handling “backhaul” from 802.11b Wi-Fi hot spots. Labrecque said an 802.11b card would not work on an 802.16 network, although a router could serve as a bridge between the two wireless systems.

Director of product development at broadband wireless manufacturer Aperto Networks, Dean Chang, said he expected to see a quick drop in the cost of customer premise equipment (CPE) next year, once the industry adopted the standard.

Chang said it was currently between $US500 and $US1000 for CPE gear per installation. He expected that to drop to $US300 once 802.16 equipment hits the market in 2004, and eventually down to the $US30 price range of today’s LAN Wi-Fi cards.

Labrecque agreed. Though she repeatedly declined to say whether Intel planned to develop its own line of 802.16 chips, Labrecque did say it was “possible” for manufacturers to push the price of 802.16 chips down to the range of Wi-Fi cards because “they are the same die size.” She said Intel had a “vision of a billion connected PCs” and that “the availability of broadband drives demand for higher powered PCs.”

Farpoint Group analyst, Craig Mathias, claimed Intel intended to add 802.16 chip sets to its portfolio of wireless products, which included Centrino chips with built-in WLAN functionality, that were introduced last month.

Intel wanted to be a wireless company, he said.

Proxim’s product marketing manager in the fixed wireless division, Jeff Orr, said 802.16 CPE gear would come in a small “pizza box size” package and include “self-install” window mount antennas as well as rooftop equipment.

The IEEE is also working on a mobile 802.16e standard, which Mathias predicted could eventually rival 802.11b products. But Chang, the chairman of the IEEE 802.16e subcommittee, said that he expected completion of the final specifications by the end of 2003. He declined to predict when 802.16e products would hit the market.

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