WiMax aims to expand the reach of wireless networks

It's a gorgeous spring day and you feel like doing a little work outside the office. So you grab your notebook PC, head down to the park or wander across the plaza to the caf', log on via WiMax and continue to work on that big PowerPoint presentation for your agency's next executive meeting.

WiMax is the emerging IEEE 802.16 standard for broadband wireless. Its promise is that it will do for wide-area networking what 802.11b, or WiFi, is doing for local networking.

'The focus of WiMax is personal broadband connectivity,' said Mo Shakouri, chairman of the marketing working group for the WiMax Forum and assistant vice president for business development for Alvarion Inc. of Carlsbad, Calif. 'Equipment will be built so you, as the user, can move around doing your work. WiMax is going to be a key element of the network, giving a broadband connection to you wirelessly.'

The WiMax Forum is developing certification procedures, selecting laboratories and building test infrastructures for products, Shakouri said.

He said he expects WiMax-certified products to start hitting the market in the second half of next year.

WiMax operates in the 2- to 11-GHz frequency range and provides data rates on the order of 15 Mbps to 35 Mbps, depending on the environment, Shakouri said.

With a base station and in a fixed environment, a signal radius of about five miles is typical, Shakouri added.

WiMax will be deployed in three phases, beginning with fixed outdoor antenna installations. The indoor installations will let users get wireless broadband connectivity in their homes or at business sites.

At the moment, you need a wired infrastructure to get high-speed connections to businesses, homes and other locations, Shakouri said. 'WiMax will be plug-and-play, like [digital subscriber lines] or cable. People will be able to buy a unit, put it in their house and get broadband connectivity''something to think about as Congress pushes for agencies to do more telework.

The third phase will focus on portable broadband applications, with WiMax being seen ultimately as a complement to WiFi.

'You as a user can go and do your work in the city park, in your office, outside or inside,' Shakouri said. 'Our mindset is to take advantage of WiMax and WiFi. We're working to develop a multinetwork solution so you can run your application and seamlessly use WiFi and WiMax to the best of their capability.'

Chipmaker Intel Corp. plans to support the development of WiMax-enabled notebooks in 2006 and 2007, Shakouri said.

And he sees government as a potential major customer for WiMax.

'Government is like a big enterprise,' he said. 'You can use WiMax to build a campus environment. You can have a private network. You can build one network that could potentially be a vehicle for communications between different agencies and different groups. You can basically have one network to do everything'voice, data and video'and you don't have to use old narrowband technology.'

WiMax also would be useful in supporting public safety applications, he added.

WiMax member companies who already have government agencies and public safety groups as customers are eyeing those agencies as potential WiMax users, he said.

Asked if broadband wireless wide-area networking would be useful for his organization, Senate CIO Greg Hanson said, 'It's something we'd certainly look at. We're kind of doing WiMax lite here right now with Verizon wireless broadband. We have that deployed and customers like it.'

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