Fixed Wireless Lends Stability To Market

New IEEE-endorsed 802.16 standard aims to unify industry

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A new fixed wireless standard ratified by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers promises to bring some stability to a corner of the service provider market plagued by failures over the past few years.

Aimed at unifying the industry behind one specification, the IEEE-endorsed 802.16 standard ultimately could reduce manufacturing costs and spur innovation in areas such as middleware and security.

For integrators, 802.16 is a welcome relief. The standard will help settle interoperability issues and reduce prices, said Baya Hatim, senior director of engineering at integrator Wireless Facilities, San Diego.

Hatim expects to be able to source 802.16 equipment from a variety of vendors with no worries about compatibility issues. That hasn't been the case with fixed wireless equipment in the past. "We had to buy the [different radios and then test them ourselves, and nothing worked," she said. "It was really terrible."

Pricing also was a problem. Now that a standard is available, components can be manufactured in volume, which may eventually bring prices down, she said.

"802.16 should reduce some uncertainty in the market and enable the industry to rally behind one group of standards," said Andy Fuentes, director of wireless research at Allied Business Intelligence.

Equipment interoperability and high prices have all but squelched fixed wireless, which was once hailed as an alternative to uncooperative local phone companies or expensive fiber connections for the last-mile connection. Amid the economic slowdown last year, fixed wireless carriers went into a tailspin: WinStar, Teligent and Advanced Radio Telecom filed for bankruptcy protection; AT&T Wireless sold off its fixed wireless business; and Sprint said it would hold its rollout to 13 markets.

The new standard seeks to define three classes of fixed wireless: high frequency spectrum from 10GHz to 66GHz used by wireless carriers; low frequencies from 2GHz to 11GHz used by providers of SMB and residential wireless broadband services as well as wireless campus networks; and unlicensed spectrum.

The first version, approved in December, focused on the 10GHz to 66Hz frequencies. Among its benefits is an efficient allocation of spectrum, providing capabilities of up to 134 Mbps per channel at peak, said Roger Marks, chairman of the 802.16 Working Group on Broadband Wireless Access and a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, Md.

This is particularly important for the carriers that have paid millions of dollars for spectrum licenses and want to get the most of out their spectrum,efficiently providing voice, data and video over each channel, Marks said.

The IEEE committee expects to complete extensions to 802.16 for low frequencies by August, Marks said. Following that, the group will work on a standard for equipment in unlicensed frequencies.

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