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Slow progress to mobility

All this shows why Intel and the WiMAX community are so keen to establish their influence over the opening sub-900MHz market and ensure that standards and devices that can take advantage of this goldmine of new spectrum are geared to the vision of ubiquitous fixed and mobile 802.16.

However, the proposed mobile variant, 802.16e, has a tough job to hit its end of year deadline for defining a standard for the core WiMAX frequencies, let alone any new ones. A total of 122 contributions was submitted for the 802.16e working group this week and few of these have harmonized, though they are expected to boil down to two core groups of proposals.

One of these will have heavy input from Navini Networks, the developer of highly mobile broadband wireless technology, which joined WiMAX Forum earlier this year, leaving behind its former favored standards body, 802.20 or Mobile-Fi. Navini brings a very valuable source of expertise in high speed handoff to the WiMAX camp, which was originally focused on limited portability, leaving true mobility to its 802.20 cousin. Now the remit of 802.16e has broadened to cover both portability and mobility, and there is increasing pressure for Mobile-Fi to be integrated into its work rather than pursuing a separate and increasingly overlapping agenda. This view is strengthened as more Mobile-Fi backers join WiMAX, including Motorola and, potentially, Cisco.

There is something of a split between the IEEE 802.16 committee and the WiMAX Forum industry group over coexistence with another overlapping standard, the South Korean Wi-Bro, which was largely developed by Samsung, research body ETRI and several Korean operators. Marks said at this week’s meeting that he welcomed the large Korean involvement in 802.16e and that the expertise of members from that country had “contributed substantially” to the emerging standard.

This conflicts with the views stated by various Intel representatives, including WiMAX chairman Ron Resnick – the chipmaker has opposed Samsung’s claim that Wi-Bro could form the basis of 802.16e, reducing time to standards, since the Korean technology is already developed and will be deployed by SKT next year. Marks seems to be taking the view that the overlapping specifications should be harmonized under one standard, even if this is then deployed in different ways for different markets – something to which WiMAX, with its broad set of potential profiles, lends itself. For instance, Wi-Bro uses 2,048 OFDM carriers, a variation that is supported in 802.16 by the Multiple Access Mode, though the 802.16e work is mainly focused on 1,024 carriers. Marks is sceptical that the goal of Wi-Bro, to deliver 1Mbps data rates at high speed, is really needed in the market, a view that may reflect the differences between US and Korean users.

In-car 802.11p standards

While the 802.16e project is in danger of being delayed in its progress to high speed mobility by these politics, its thunder in the vehicle market could be stolen by Wi-Fi. The next extension to the 802.11 standards family to come under consideration by the IEEE will be 802.11p, which concerns Wi-Fi operations at high speed and is seen as an important enabler of in-car networks. The proposed 802.11p protocol would deliver 6Mbps average rates over distances of around 1,000 feet while travelling at high speed, making it competitive with other mobile broadband technologies such as Flarion Flash-OFDM or mobile WiMAX. It expands on conventional 802.11 to allow for provisions that are specifically useful to automobiles - a more advanced hand-off scheme, high mobility, enhanced security, identification, ad hoc peer-to-peer authentication and communications in the automotive- allocated 5.9GHz spectrum.

802.11p will be used as the groundwork for DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communications), a US Department of Transportation project – which will be emulated elsewhere - looking at vehicle- based communication networks, particularly for applications such as toll collection, vehicle safety services, and commerce transactions via cars. The ultimate vision is a nationwide network that enables communications between vehicles and roadside access points or other vehicles.

The 802.11p technology will come before the executive committee of the IEEE this week and working groups are conducting further studies on interoperability between access points and cars. The work builds on its predecessor, ASTN a2213-O3.

“Prototypes are under construction right now,” said Lee Armstrong, chair of the 802.11p working group, who expects auto makers to deploy the technology in high end vehicles in 2007-8, and says most of the big names are already testing the connections. By building Wi-Fi access points along the nation’s highways— which ABI estimates could see initial expenditures in the $1bn range in the US—and installing receiver chips inside automobiles, consumers and safety personnel will be able to receive high speed internet access that supports such applications as real time traffic updates and video streaming.

This could eat into a valuable market for both cellular and broadband wireless equipment makers and operators. Although the current default method of communication to the car, cellular, will exist alongside 802.11p for at least another six years, it is possible that carmakers will hold back on investing in next generation cellular telematics technology, which has been held up as a major new revenue stream for this industry.

Likewise, 802.11p will take some of the gloss of the claims of Flarion and other 802.20 backers, as well as companies looking at high speed WiMAX, that their technologies will be differentiated by their suitability for vehicles. The government support for 802.11p will make it the mainstream solution and alternatives, even if they are more powerful, will find it hard to get a look-in.

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