Trend: WiMax has arrived

Cato the Elder used to end every speech he gave in the Roman Senate, regardless of the topic under discussion, with the words Carthago delenda est--Carthage must be destroyed. I have forgotten my Latin, so I have to resort to Spanish (a Latin language) and say WiMax está viniendo--WiMax is coming. I have certainly repeated this message on these pages, not as persistently and certainly not as eloquently as Cato, but enough times. Indeed, WiMax has been a long time coming, but it is coming.

To recap: The technology, originally based on the IEEE 802.16 specification, was approved in 2001. The hope then was that WiMax networks would cover the U.S. by 2005. This was naive, and as the pace of the technology's development became more realistic, WiMax skeptics began to attach the adjective "over-hyped" to it. The dogs barked, but the caravan moved on. WiMax received a major boost in early 2005 when Intel said it had produced working silicon and was shipping the chips to vendors. WiMax specs continued to develop, adding non-line-of-site capability and new modulation techniques (802.16a was adopted in 2003, 802.16revD in 2004) and new support for mobility and lower frequencies (802.16e was adopted in December 2005). Sensing the opportunity, ISPs such as Speakeasy began to install uncertified, proprietary WiMax solutions, while in other parts of the world, indigenous versions of WiMax were launched, such as South Korea's WiBro.

Last week's announcement by the WiMax Forum that it had certified the first four WiMax products is another step in the technology's inexorable forward march. The newly certified devices all operate in 3.5 Ghz, which is available for business use in much of the world and is thus a good section of spectrum for WiMax in which to reside. As has been the case with WiMax from the start (and this is the reason why self-important, myopic commentators time and again mistook the forest for the trees), there is a wrinkle here: In the U.S., the 3.5 Ghz band is already occupied. Devices operating in unlicensed bands such as 5.8 Ghz will not be certified until the end of 2006 or later, and the much-talked-about 700 Mhz band will not be fully available until TV operators vacate it as they transition to digital some years from now.

Yes, all this means that the pace of WiMax deployment--and guaranteed interoperability--will be quicker around the world and a bit slower in the U.S. It also means that for 12 to 18 months yet, the bulk of WiMax deployment in the U.S. will be proprietary. In the larger scheme of WiMax's forward march, this is but a footnote. WiMax está viniendo.

For more on certified WiMax products:
- see this ZDNet article | product details
- Nate Anderson's Arstechnica comments
For more on WiMax certification process:
- see this press release
For the problems operating WiMax in the U.S. in 3.5 GHz:
- see the U.S. Office of Spectrum Management's chart (pdf)

PLUS: The WiMax market is surging ahead and the WiMax equipment market could top $3 billion by 2010, an In-Stat study predicts. "Our aggressive forecast for pre-WiMax-Certified 802.16-2004 equipment--subscriber units and base stations--is $42 million in 2005, growing to $3.2 billion in 2010," says In-Stat's Norm Bogen. "The conservative forecast is $19 million and $2.1 billion, respectively." Report

ALSO: Wireless chip maker Beceem Communications this week became one of the first manufacturers to ship a mobile WiMax digital base band and integrated radio chip set--MS120--for handheld devices. The chip set is based on currently available IEEE 802.16e mobile WiMax specifications. Note that the IEEE has not yet ratified a mobile WiMax standard. Report

FINALLY: Privately held chipset designers are focusing on smart-antenna technology as a central element of WiMax networks, but venture capital is hesitant when coming to investing in these startups. Report