IT market researcher IDC expects the market for WiMAX semiconductor devices, one of the key enabling technologies for such networks, to grow from a modest $133m worldwide in 2006 to a burgeoning $607m in 2010. This will be achieved initially from the growth of fixed broadband wireless implementations and later from the volume rollout of WiMAX-enabled laptops.
This will have a multiplier effect on the market for WiMAX equipment because of the by now familiar phenomenon known as Moore's Law, which essentially says that semiconductor devices gain in performance and capability while becoming progressively cheaper over time. Whereas IDC predicts a market growing in value terms by 356 per cent, the growth in terms of units over the same period will be a whopping 1,049 per cent, from 1.6m units in 2006 to 17.9m units in 2010.
The expected growth in the market for WiMAX equipment merely reflects the market for existing Wi-Fi devices which has grown in leaps and bounds thanks to the familiar cycle of innovation followed by standardisation and commoditisation. In 2000, Wi-Fi access that delivered 1Mbit/s of data cost between $750 and $100.Today, Wi-Fi access that delivers 100Mbit/s costs only $25.
It is easy to see in simple terms how networks are going to evolve in the near future—people want to be able to transmit and receive any type of data to or from anybody, anywhere at any time with minimal difficulty. This means that high-bandwidth telecommunications infrastructure will have to be readily accessible in any location from which people will want to communicate. WiMAX is particularly well suited for this as it can be quickly and economically deployed in nearly any type of geography without requiring extensive installations, or pre-existing infrastructures as per wired technologies. Furthermore, WiMAX offers nomadic and mobile operations such that the connection becomes associated with the person not a location – hence enabling true Personal Broadband. Furthermore, the economics of WiMAX, unlike other wireless technologies, enable a low enough cost per bit such that it becomes viable for the mass market of consumers to adopt – hence delivering broadband anywhere, anytime.
Fixed WiMAX technology (IEEE 802.16-2004) is already in place and being used successfully. The WiMAX Forum certified the first fixed WiMAX products in January 2006. More than 20 operators deployed commercial fixed WiMAX networks while more than 100 carriers initiated fixed WiMAX network trials worldwide. Since then, the numbers have grown to more than 175 trials and deployments, and more than 35 commercial networks.
So far WiMAX has largely been deployed as a broadband wireless backbone providing broadband coverage to areas not currently served by existing wired broadband technologies. In many, though not all developed Western countries, there is already a mature market for wired broadband i.e. communications delivered by copper or fibre cable. According to researcher Jupiter Networks, most Western European countries have wired broadband availability for more than 90 per cent of their populations.
However, for developing countries such as Russia , Eastern Europe or the Middle East the potential to deliver broadband infrastructure via wireless technology is tempting. A wireless backbone offers a much faster and more cost effective way to roll out broadband infrastructure than the traditional method of laying cable either underground or on towers.
Quite apart from the special advantages that wireless networking in general offers over fixed-line communications, WiMAX also offers some technical advantages over some popular broadband technologies such as Asymmetric DSL (ADSL). The asymmetric nature of this technology means that upload speeds are typically a fraction of the download speeds offered by the service and rarely exceed 1Mbit/s. WiMAX can offer upload speeds of 4Mbit/s. Although this is typically not an issue for residential users, it can be an important issue for business users who may require a robust uplink as well as downlink. Further, since an operator can adjust the ratio between uplink and downlink traffic, spectrum can be optimized to meet traffic requirements of users and applications as they evolve.
One of the more interesting current WiMAX deployments is in the town of Umeå in Northern Sweden . There, a local operator called Mobile City is working with the local government to provide cars equipped with WiMAX and Wi-Fi capability to provide broadband connectivity to nurses who travel to visit patients in their homes.
With this connectivity, nurses are able to use their notebook PCs to download information for the benefit of patients while on the road or even during a visit and can also complete their ‘paperwork' while on the road. This greatly enhances the care they can deliver to their patients and significantly improves productivity. None of this could be done previously unless the patient lived near a Wi-Fi hotspot. These specially equipped cars combine a WiMAX CPE to connect the car to the hospital and a Wi-Fi access point to connect to the nurse's notebook. In effect, the car becomes a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot which the nurses can use for the benefit of their patients.
Although the example above uses fixed WiMAX technology, the mobile capabilities offered by products meeting the newly ratified mobile WiMAX standard 802.16e-2005 offer potentially the most exciting growth opportunities. Such equipment will enable broadband access while moving at speeds up to 120km/hr. Or in other words, you will soon be able to use your notebook computer to access the Internet while sitting in a coach or train without losing connectivity.
Working on the move
Being able to work on the move is a key enabler of productivity in today's world. Studies have shown that people used their notebooks 30 per cent more of the time when they have wireless access than when they do not.
Hitherto, wireless access while one was away from one's office LAN has been dependent on finding a Wi-Fi hot-spot. Although Wi-Fi technology has been extremely popular, it does have the limitation of short range, with users needing to be within 45m (typically) of the access station indoors at data rates of 1-2Mbit/s and at distances up to 90m (typically) outdoors. Although the outdoor range can in theory be boosted to several km using special antennas in direct ‘line-of-sight' to the access point, indoors the range can be further diminished by ‘noisy' environments caused by interference from other wireless networks and other devices sharing the same frequency (e.g.: cordless telephones, microwave ovens).
Mobile WiMAX products, on the other hand, will be able to connect to access points several kilometres away and at faster data speeds. Although actual data rates experienced by users will be determined by service levels offered by the service providers, mobile WiMAX products will be able to support peak downlink rates of 14.1Mbit/s and uplink rates of 2.2Mbit/s for a total net throughput (after all coding overhead is removed) of 16.3Mbit/s per sector in 10MHz of spectrum.* The peak gross throughput per cell is 72Mbit/s.
The WiMAX Forum has developed system profiles based on the IEEE-ratified specification and identified conformance test tools and methods that will allow the expansion of the certification process to include mobile as well as fixed systems. Products that make use of the new standard will start to become available from equipment makers in the second half of this year. The likely scenario will see mobile WiMAX technology appearing first on PC Cards for deployment in notebook computers. In 2007-2008, WiMAX should start to appear as a standard option inside notebooks, handheld computers and even some mobile phone handsets.
Mobile WiMAX is a technology that will coexist with high-speed cellular technologies such as 3G, which is optimised for voice and moderate data-rate applications. WiMAX is optimised for IP-based high-speed wireless broadband and the transmission of data. WiMAX will coexist with 3G networks, even as 3G operators introduce HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access) facilities which offer an estimated peak net throughput of 3.6Mbit/s.* WiMAX will provide lower-cost high bandwidth data connectivity ushering in a new era of applications and services—only WiMAX can offer a low enough cost per bit to make true broadband applications cost effective offerings in a wireless environment.
High-speed mobile WiMAX offers the most potential for the future to create the internet experience anywhere anytime. With its combination of band-width, range and mobility it allows people to be online wherever and whenever they want or need to be.
About the Author:
Joe Nardone is the general manager for the WiMAX Solutions Division. His division is responsible for the worldwide ramp of mobile WiMAX based networks and services. Most recently, Mr. Nardone managed strategic planning for WiMAX at Intel, with responsibility for WiMAX product planning and market development.
Previously Mr. Nardone was the Marketing Director for Intel's Handheld Networking Division that was responsible for the development of low power 802.11/WiFi and Bluetooth components for handheld devices. Mr. Nardone's other key roles at Intel include managing platform planning in Intel's Enterprise Platform Group, managing Product Marketing and Planning within Intel's Communications Products Group, and managing the Broadband Technology Development group within Intel's Architecture Lab. Nardone joined Intel in 1986 as a systems engineer in Intel's OEM modules group. He holds a BSEE from GMI (currently Kettering University ).
Contact Joe Nardone at: firstname.lastname@example.org
* the above numbers are sourced from a model assuming 10 MHz of spectrum for WiMAX and 5 + 5 MHz of spectrum for HSDPA. The model also assumes 3 sector cells and an uplink to downlink ratio of 3:1 for WiMAX (although this can be flexible). The model also assume a mix of users with different percentages moving at speeds ranging from pedestrian (3Km/hr) to vehicular (120 Km/hr). These numbers represent net throughput, not gross throughput. In other words, all overhead coding has been removed from the throughput, 14 Mbit/s is the net data throughput , not total throughput.