Motorola heads straight for mobile WiMax

Motorola plans to ship wireless broadband equipment based on the mobile WiMax standard next year.

Motorola is moving aggressively toward the next generation of WiMax wireless broadband, gearing up to introduce two product lines without waiting for the WiMax Forum to finish specifications for the technology.

The communications vendor is bypassing completely the first form of WiMax, intended solely for broadband services to fixed client devices, and is already developing a portfolio called Moto Wi4 that is based on the IEEE 802.16e standard, which ultimately will allow mobile access, Senior Marketing Manager Paul Sergeant said Wednesday.

Its strategy could find a strong US backer in Sprint Nextel, the company formed through the merger of Sprint and Nextel that was completed Aug. 12. The merged carrier holds about 80 percent of US licenses for a band of spectrum around 2.5GHz and is exploring wireless broadband options for it. It is soon to begin trials of Moto Wi4 gear, Sergeant said.

Like other networking companies, Motorola expects a bigger market to develop around the mobile standard even though it lags fixed WiMax, which the WiMax Forum has already begun testing for product interoperability and standards compliance. The IEEE 802.16e standard is not yet completed, though Sergeant expects it to be finished soon, and the WiMax Forum is not expected to certify products based on it until 2007.

"We're not waiting that long," Sergeant said. The only attractive technology for Motorola is 802.16e, because fixed WiMax gear won't be upgradeable to the mobile technology, he said. In addition, the second-generation standard will perform better even in fixed applications, he added. Motorola expects most operators to go to mobile-capable networks to start with.

Motorola's first products based on IEEE 802.16e will be generally available next year, Sergeant said. Despite their relationship to the mobile standard, they won't support mobility at first: There are too many technical issues, such as handoffs from one access point to another, to tackle that feature just yet, he said. When the software for those functions becomes available, service providers will be able to upgrade their products over the air to support mobility and meet the specifications, according to Sergeant.

Those products will take advantage of Motorola's Canopy technology, which uses relatively small and inexpensive access points for high-speed data services delivered by small Internet service providers as well as carriers in the developing world. They will continue to be aimed at these types of providers and will lack some carrier-class features such as redundancy, Sergeant said.

The second line of Moto Wi4 products, which will be the focus of the Sprint Nextel trial, are expected to become generally available in 2007 and will support mobility from the beginning, Sergeant said. Motorola believes those products could be certified by the WiMax Forum by the time they ship, he said. Also based on 802.16e, this gear will be fully carrier class, he said.

Enterprises and consumers may not know they are buying WiMax services, but they will benefit from it through lower prices for wireless data services, according to Sergeant.

Current 3G (third-generation) technologies are evolving into faster systems such as HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access), which is expected to deliver 400K bps (bits per second) to 600K bps, with a peak rate of 14.4M bps. Meanwhile, the WiMax Forum says users should expect at least 1M bps. However, the cost per bit to provide WiMax will be significantly lower than for 3G, according to Sergeant. HSDPA is more efficient than current 3G, but WiMax will still have a cost advantage because it is a pure IP (Internet Protocol) packet network, he said.

Motorola may be on the right track focusing on 802.16e, said InStat analyst Allen Nogee.

"The market for mobile is probably much larger than the market for fixed," he said.

However, Nogee sees comparisons of 3G and mobile WiMax as irrelevant today because the technologies are so different. Cellular networks are sophisticated systems representing years of development for voice services, and WiMax won't be a realistic alternative for that in the foreseeable future, he said.

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service

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