Mobile WiMax standard claims criticized

The WiMax hype-machine went into -- believe it or not -- higher gear late last week, as the mobile WiMax standard, 802.16e, was formally approved by the IEEE standards group.

Already, vendors are claiming mobile data products are -- or will be -- "mobile Wimax," alongside those vendors putting "pre-WiMax" stickers on proprietary fixed wireless systems. One of the first offenders, Navini, has already claimed the lead in what it terms "pre-mobile WiMax."

Navini reckons its has 100,000 customers for its "802.16e-like" portable broadband product, including 36,000 with Unwired Australia. Its product is based on a different radio technology, but Navini has promised that in future it will stick a WiMax radio in its product alongside the proprietary one, to offer "dual-mode" devices.

The distinction between the two published WiMax standards is not, in fact as simple as the difference between "fixed" and "mobile," said Paul Senior, vice president of marketing at wireless broadband vendor Airspan, and a board member of the WiMax Forum. "802.16d (or 802.16-2004) is fixed and nomadic, and designed to work in regulated spectrum. 802.16e will include fixed and mobile WiMax."

While the mobile WiMax market could ultimately be much larger than fixed WiMax, that should not distract people from the big opportunity in fixed WiMax said Senior -- especially when fixed WiMax is now close to real delivery.

"Mobile WiMax can eventually be sold to virtually everyone on the planet, while fixed WiMax is about filling in the gaps in DSL coverage," said Senior. "Of course that's a smaller market -- but even fixed WiMax can be ten times as big as the fixed wireless we and others have been selling for ten years."

As a WiMax Forum board member, Senior is scathing about the use of "pre-WiMax" as a term for proprietary fixed or mobile wireless products whose vendors have promised migration to the standard. "At Airspan, we've never made any claim that products two or three years old had some sort of evolution path to WiMax. It's not possible to do a lot of that stuff."

The issue is not unique to WiMax -- the Wi-Fi Alliance has taken a similar stance against "pre-n" as a term for proprietary fast Wi-Fi products produced in advance of the IEEE's 802.11n standard.

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Peter Judge

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