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Replacing your T1 with nothing but air

If your company could have T1 service without paying to install the T1 line, wouldn't it be a no-brainer? If Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access Inc., or WiMax Forum, has its way, that very scenario may become reality in just a few years. The nonprofit group is working to promote interoperability among the vendors developing wireless broadband products that conform to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' (IEEE's) 802.16 standards.

Margaret LaBrecque, president of WiMax and marketing manager for the broadband wireless access initiative within Intel Capital, Intel Corp.'s strategic investment program, spoke with SearchMobileComputing.com about the 802.16 standards and what wireless broadband access may mean to enterprises.

Can you explain how 802.16a-compliant products would be used?
We [envision] people deploying [compliant products] in urban centers, where the wired infrastructure isn't that great. There are a lot of businesses in the U.S. that can't get access to local T1 service. There are many stories where people have had to wait two months to get a T1 line to their business, and internationally it can be even longer. I think that the current lack of broadband access will help drive our industry forward. So, not only is it our goal to get multiple vendors to ship interoperable 802.16a products by the second half of 2004, but we also want the first systems that hit the market to be interoperable. That way we won't have any [implementation] delays because vendors come out with systems that don't interoperate. What is the WiMax Forum, and what is its mission?
The IEEE developed the 802.16 standards, and WiMax was formed to create interoperability specs for those standards. There are many vendors today selling equipment for last mile broadband access and, essentially, this is the wireless equivalent to providing T1 DSL business service. With the completion of 802.16a in January of this year, [Intel] and seven other companies joined WiMax to ensure vendors create interoperable equipment for the market. Can you crystallize why interoperability among 802.16 equipment vendors is important?
For example, if you had a Wi-Fi-compatible network card in your laptop, and you went to use a hotspot, your card didn't always interoperate with the access point that was in the hotspot. That was very limiting, and 802.11 didn't take off until interoperability was established. That's why WiMax was formed. If operators knew that they could deploy one vendor's base station but get future equipment from another vendor because the products interoperate, that greatly reduces the investment risk for operators. Why does interest in these standards seem to be growing so suddenly?
The 802.16a standard was approved to cover the 2 GHz to 11 GHz range, and the original covered the 10 GHz to 66 GHz range. The original standard was targeted toward providing line-of-site, high-capacity wireless links for cell towers. However, 802.16a, because it goes into that lower spectrum, supports non-line-of-site performance. It's that feature, along with a lower cost, that has ignited a lot of interest from vendors. What will WiMax and the 802.16a-compliant products mean for enterprises?
If a business isn't satisfied with its broadband carrier, it's an alternative to having a T1 line coming into their business. It has a lot of capacity -- up to 70 Mbps -- so it can do enterprise-level connectivity.

And some enterprises have sporadic needs for elevated broadband access. For example, I was at a conference in Dallas, and most of the 1,200 people at the hotel had notebooks with Wi-Fi cards. They could connect to the LAN to get files, but when they tried to connect to the Internet, they weren't able to access it because the hotel only had one T1 line coming into the conference center. Now, the hotel probably doesn't have that many people there all the time, but it would be nice if they could get five T1s for a few days, and that's what we feel this can add. It could increase bandwidth on an as-needed basis. It could also work for mobile businesses, like construction companies, because when they move they need their broadband access to go with them. As you mentioned, a number of companies recently announced that they would participate in the group. Why was that announcement significant?
There's a big difference between conforming to a specification and being interoperable. Two vendors' products that conform to a standard don't necessarily interoperate, because a specification can't cover everything. But by joining WiMax, those companies are saying they're willing to work with other vendors to achieve that. There aren't any WiMax-certified 802.16a products available yet, but what can an enterprise do to prepare?
If a company is looking for another connectivity choice, they can go with one of the companies they know is on a path to being WiMax certified, or releasing standards-compliant products. If they buy existing equipment from the WiMax members, they'll know they're looking at the right road map.

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