Carl Weinschenk spoke with Dr. Mohammad Shakouri, the vice president of the WiMAX Forum. The WiMax industry has made a number of moves to speed both its core technology and the way in which it gets to market. Dr. Shakouri tells IT Business Edge blogger Carl Weinschenk that WiMax 2 certification testing will begin by the end of 2011. In the interim, he says, steps are being taken to speed the current version of WiMax. He also says that a plan to streamline operator certification testing is being introduced.
Weinschenk: What is WiMax 2?
Shakouri: WiMax 2, as the name sounds, is like a movie sequel. It's the second iteration of WiMax. The main thing is wireless broadband connectivity. With WiMax 2, we want higher data rates and additional performance. Operators today realize Internet speeds and [other] requirements of consumers are increasing. WiMax 2 allows higher data rates, lower latency and higher efficiency. [We think that] since it's multimedia, the network has to be able to deliver 100 megabit data rates in the mobile space and 1 gigabyte in fixed applications.
"Today the initial WiMax system is designed to provide 30 to 40 megabit [per second] data rates. WiMax 2 is designed to provide a two- , three- , four- or five-time level of improvement. Consumers want more and more speed."
Weinschenk: How does that compare to the current versions of WiMax?
Shakouri: Today the initial WiMax system is designed to provide 30 to 40 megabit [per second] data rates. WiMax 2 is designed to provide a two- , three- , four- or five-time level of improvement. Consumers want more and more speed. For example, today the average WiMax user is using close to 10 gigabytes of data per month. If you are in a cellular network, you are getting 100 to 200 kilobytes. So [WiMax 2] would represent a major increase of what people will do if you can give them that high-speed data rate at a flat rate.
Weinschenk: How long will it be until increases are felt?
Shakouri: It's [already] happening. Part of the announcement last week was in addition to WiMax 2 -- which is set today for commercial deployment at the end of 2011 -- we are implementing changes to WiMax 1 aimed at improving performance by 50 percent by the end of this year. Use has gone up more than anyone expected, so the operator community has requested that the WiMax community increase the performance.
Weinschenk: How is this being done?
Shakouri: By [doing things such as] leveraging multiple antennas in the base station and improving overall efficiencies. The idea is to improve the performance at the cell edge by 50 percent. You have to remember that when WiMax initially was deployed, not all the features were commercialized. The idea is that over time additional features can be added. The simplest example is that by leveraging multiple antennas in the base station, you can increase capacity. For the end user device, there is no difference, but the radio infrastructure the operator puts together will have increased capacity. The end user sees no difference [to their equipment], except they can get more capacity from the operator. Hopefully it will make the end user happier.
Weinschenk: What is the timeline on these interim improvements?
Shakouri: The work is ongoing since this year. Our expectation is that there will be standardization and commercialization by the end of 2010. The real value proposition is the antenna and optimization over the air.
Weinschenk: What is the relationship between the improvements in WiMax 1 and WiMax 2?
Shakouri: WiMax 2 [is standardized to] IEEE 802.16m. WiMax 1 is based on 802.16e. 802.16m is backward compatible to 802.16e. Standardization was about 95 percent complete at the beginning of this year and is expected to be finalized and ratified by IEEE before the end of 2010. We are expecting to have formal certification activity by the WiMax Forum to start by the end of 2011.
Weinschenk: What are the advantages of WiMax 2?
Shakouri: WiMax 2 offers additional capabilities, for example, the use of channels that are 40 megahertz. WiMax 1 uses channelization to 20 MHz. In addition to that, there is a higher order of antenna capability and optimized performance that increases the number of VoIP calls and the traffic you can support. As you can see, we are building on a foundation. WiMax 1 is a basic foundation. On top of that, you have WiMax 1 Enhanced. Then you bring in WiMax 2. All of it is based OFDMA technology and built on an all-IP network model. Like you are getting a basic car, and then you are adding all the features.
Weinschenk: How will this integrate in the current cellular environment?
Shakouri: I think WiMax technology overall is meant to be complementary to cellular 3G. It's not meant to replace cellular networks. This is a multimedia network where you want to do VoIP sessions, video, and use the Internet. As we go from WiMax 1 to WiMax 1 Enhanced, we have increased simultaneous users, VoIP users, on the network and increased data rates. The quality of service already was there in WiMax 1. Today WiMax 1 is used for business connectivity but a majority of people didn't try to build broadband networks like WiMax to replace a cellular 3G network. Most people are using it for broadband multimedia.
Weinschenk: Will it be a competitive environment?
Shakouri: I think most people think LTE and WiMax will compete. The WiMax that is presently commercially deployed is similar to the LTE that is being developed by the cellular industry. WiMax 2 is similar to LTE Advanced that is planned. I think at this moment they are two different industries. WiMax is coming from the computer industry, the Internet community. LTE is coming from the cellular industry. For example, close to 20 or 25 percent of WiMax deployments are by mobile operators. Some will overlay WiMax and some will overlay LTE depending on the spectrum they have. WiMax is TDD-time division duplex-and most cellular spectrum is FDD. They are not competing in the same way at all.
Weinschenk: I understand that you are working to speed that effort even further. Can you describe the WiMax Forum Open Retail Initiative?
Shakouri: A vendor in, for instance, Minnesota can get products to the retail market without full laboratory of an operator. We announced it earlier this week. We are trying to identify the critical tests that are needed by operators. [Vendors] have to go to one standard location certified by the WiMax Forum. They can go to a place close to them, certify their gear, and get the devices onto the network. We will build the infrastructure for that.
Weinschenk: Where in the U.S. will the lab be?
Shakouri: In the states, it is in Virginia. We've already announced that the laboratories will be opening by the middle of May, and they will be [helping vendors] in the marketplace by the end of the year.