IEEE approves next WiMax standard

The 802.16m technology is much faster than current WiMax but will compete against a faster LTE

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has approved IEEE 802.16m, the standard for the next generation of WiMax, which may deliver downstream speeds of more than 300M bps (bits per second).

IEEE 802.16m, also known as WirelessMAN-Advanced or WiMax-2, was developed as the next step after 802.16e, the first global standard for mobile WiMax. The new standard was more than four years in the making, according to the IEEE, but it arrives as WiMax appears surrounded and outnumbered in the mobile world. A significant majority of carriers that have committed to building so-called 4G (fourth-generation) networks have chosen LTE (Long-Term Evolution), which shares some underlying characteristics with WiMax but comes from a different standards body.

At the CEATAC trade show in Tokyo last year, Samsung demonstrated a pre-standard 802.16m network that achieved a speed of 330M bps. The standard is designed to provide speeds of about 100M bps to end users. It can use several techniques to surpass the performance of current WiMax technology, including MIMO (multiple-in, multiple out) technology for sending more than one stream of data. It can also be used with small base stations called femtocells and with self-organizing networks, according to the IEEE. The new standard is backward compatible with the current WiMax.

Last year, 802.16m achieved the distinction of being recognized as a true 4G technology by the ITU (International Telecommunication Union). It stood alongside LTE-Advanced, a future version of LTE that likewise was not commercially available, in a definition that clashed with the widespread use of 4G to describe current WiMax and LTE. But the ITU later relaxed its definition of the term so much that it even opened the door to carriers such as T-Mobile USA describing variants of 3G technology as 4G.

WiMax is used for stationary or nomadic wireless broadband in many parts of the world. The 802.16e mobile WiMax standard was approved in the middle of the past decade, well before LTE, and powered the first national network in the U.S. using a next-generation technology. But a large equipment and device ecosystem is now growing up around LTE, and even Clearwire, the world's largest mobile WiMax provider, has tested that technology.

Sprint Nextel, majority owner of Clearwire, indicated last year it was interested in 802.16m, which it said might offer 128M bps to 360M bps. But with Clearwire strapped for cash to further expand its network, many observers have raised questions about the future technology directions of both companies.

Earlier this year, representatives of many of the world's biggest handset makers endorsed a final version of LTE-Advanced, which they said would increase transfer speeds to 1G bps.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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Tags WiMaxInstitute of Electrical and Electronics EngineerstelecommunicationNetworkingwirelessInternational Telecommunication Unionmobile

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service

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