WiMax committee sits back as standards fall

15 Dec 2006 View Comments
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The news that the 802.20 committee has been disbanded is not something Intel is whipping up hype about. Strange, that; it’s one of the most important developments in WiMax this year, and normally, Intel isn’t shy about talking about WiMax.

“No, no, Guy,” I hear you cry. “You’ve got it wrong. WiMax is 802.16, right? 16d is fixed, and 16e is mobile.”

Further reading

I quote from an IEEE Institute publication: “The working group, IEEE 802.20, was formed in 2003 as an offshoot of the IEEE 802.16 standard activity, often referred to as WiMax, the technology enabling fixed wireless broadband access as an alternative to cable and DSL. The proposed IEEE 802.20 standard would do that but with a twist: it would support broadband wireless for laptop computers and other devices used in fast-moving vehicles such as cars and trains.”

You’re still convinced I’ve got it entirely wrong. WiMax is mobile! We have a statement from Intel last week in Hong Kong, pointing out that it has a working chipset that handles 3G, Wi-Fi and WiMax all in the same PC. And the standard is “mostly done and dusted”, said the last bulletin from the 802.16e working group. How could all these people overlook something like the collapse of the 802.20 committee?

The nasty truth is that 802.16e is a horrible bodge, designed to allow the Emperor’s procession to roll on even after the small child has uttered a shriek of, “B****x, it can’t do hand-off”. It can’t do hand-off even as well as Wi-Fi, which is to say, not very well. When you move from one cell to another, the signal is lost, and time has to be spent re-establishing the link.

Intel isn’t admitting this, neither is Qualcomm, another member of the suspended 802.20 committee. It would be a miracle if anybody involved admitted it, revealing just how venal the committee process has become, and the IEEE has had to completely rethink how it does standards development as a result.

But for WiMax, the truth is that there is no mobile WiMax standard. There are lots of rival ones, all being urgently advanced by intellectual property owners, who haven’t the slightest intention of “working together in harmony”.

OK, now go and re-read the Ofcom announcement about how it expects huge bids for the new WiMax spectrum, and how this is key to the future of mobile comms. Try not to let your hair turn grey...

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