'WiMAX 2' set to be finalized in November

802.16m will be significantly faster than its predecessor

While LTE starts rolling out from major U.S. carriers in 2011, the WiMAX Forum is hoping to have the so-called WiMAX 2 standard up and ready to go by the start of 2012.

What WiMAX 2 promises

Declan Byrne, the marketing director for the WiMAX Forum industry group, says the WiMAX 2 standard, formally known as 802.16m, will be finalized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) this November, with an eye toward certifying devices based on the standard throughout 2011. From there, he expects ISPs to start deploying the standard commercially throughout 2012, when U.S. carriers such as AT&T and T-Mobile will just be starting to offer LTE services nationwide.

802.16m will be significantly faster than its predecessor. WiMAX Forum Vice President Mohammad Shakouri has said the goal is for the new WiMAX standard to deliver average downlink speeds of more than 100Mbps to users. In contrast, Sprint's initial Xohm WiMAX offering, which debuted commercially in 2008, delivered downlink speeds ranging between 3.7M to 5Mbps. But while 802.16m will give WiMAX a major speed boost, don't expect it to propagate any further than the current WiMAX technology that covers around 31 square miles per access point.

802.16m will also be backward compatible with 802.16e, the WiMAX standard currently used by operators in the United States. This means that when U.S. ISP Clearwire upgrades to the new standard it will be able to do so at a relatively low cost and with minimal disruption.

Clearwire is currently the only major U.S. carrier to operate a wireless network based on the 802.16e WiMAX standard. Clearwire wholesales access to its network out to companies that want to offer customers high-speed wireless data services but that do not own WiMAX infrastructure of their own, including Sprint, Comcast and Time-Warner Cable. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are all planning to commercially launch LTE services at some point over the next two years.

Clearwire last week made waves in the WiMAX community when it said that it would begin trying out LTE network infrastructure as a possible complement or alternative to its current WMAX network. Byrne says that while the WiMAX Forum was "surprised" by Clearwire's LTE announcement, he is confident that the company is still committed to WiMAX and that the company's vast spectrum holdings could make it possible for it to operate both a WiMAX and an LTE network.

"We don't think it would be detrimental if Clearwire decided to run both WiMAX and LTE," he says. "In some ways it might be positive for both WiMAX and LTE because it would take some of the sting out of the 'either-or' dynamic that a lot of people have been setting up when talking about the two technologies."

Both WiMAX and LTE are hitting the market during a time when Cisco projects that mobile Internet traffic will double every year between now and 2013, when it will total an average of 2.2 million terabytes per month. Cisco predicts that the biggest driver for the traffic increase will come from video, which will account for roughly 64% of all mobile data traffic in 2013. In 2008, video traffic averaged around 13,000 TB per month, or roughly 39% of all mobile traffic. By 2013, video traffic will increase by more than 100 times and will average around 1.3 million TB per month, Cisco projects.

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