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WiMAX: Final Destination or Path

Amit Rawal
Himachal Futuristic Communications Limited

Introduction to WiMAX (IEEE 802.16 Standard for Broadband Wireless)

A new wireless technology that is poised to revolutionize broadband wireless access (BWA)
communications is Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX), the IEEE 802.16 standard
for broadband—big brother to the popular wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi). WiMAX is designed for metropolitan
area networks (MANs) whereas Wi-Fi is designed for local area networks (LANs). While Wi-Fi is intended
to provide coverage over relatively small areas, such as in offices or hotspots, WiMAX can transfer
around 70 Mbps over a distance of 30 miles (48 kilometers) to thousand of users from a single base
station. By comparison, the most commonly used standard of Wi-Fi 802.11b can transfer data at speeds
up to 11 Mbps over ranges up to 1,000 feet (300 meters) in open areas from a single base station.

The initial version of the WiMAX standard operates in the 10–66 GHz frequency band and requires line-
of-sight towers, but the 802.16a extension, ratified in January 2003, uses the lower frequency of 2-11
GHz, enabling nonline-of-sight connections, making it an appropriate technology for last-mile applications
where obstacles like trees and buildings are often present. Hence, this constitutes a major breakthrough
in wireless broadband access as line-of-sight between your transmission point and the receiving antenna
is not necessary. Approved in December 2002, 802.16c is aimed at improving interoperability by
specifying system profiles in the 10–66 GHz range.

Although broadband has been available for some time, access for most people is still limited. According to
the U.S. Census, at least 40 percent of the residential and small and medium-sized enterprise (SME)
markets cannot receive broadband via cable or digital subscriber line (DSL). DSL or cable connectors are
limited because of the following:

• They are expensive and slow to deploy

• Customers are out of reach of DSL services
• Customers are not part of a residential cable infrastructure

WiMAX could be the key to breaking through the last-mile barriers that have slowed broadband adoption,
especially in rural areas where the cost of deploying broadband connections has not been economical.
WiMAX can be taken as a wireless alternative to DSL and cable (see Figure 1). The principal advantages
of the systems based on 802.16 are as follows:

• The ability to provision services quickly, even in areas that are inaccessible for wired infrastructure

• The avoidance of steep installation costs

• The ability to overcome the physical limitations of traditional wired infrastructure

• Wireless redundancy and quick redeployment

Figure 1: Shows the Global Wireless Standards

Drawbacks with Wi-Fi (802.11)

Equipment based on 802.11 provides wireless connectivity over areas outside the confines of a building.
These 802.11–based proprietary systems/equipments are great for meeting performance and security
requirements; however, they tend to be more expensive and a bit risky in terms of long-term support.
They also lack interoperability, which the end user demands. The use of 802.11–based hardware for
metropolitan-sized networks decreases costs, but 802.11 has performance limitations when supporting
larger numbers of users needing guaranteed bandwidth. In addition, radio frequency (RF) interference is
often a significant problem with 802.11 when covering large areas due to license-free operation. A
competitor may install an 802.11 network that interferes with other networks, and users will suffer due to
sporadic, poor performance. There is really nothing one can do about that because there are no legal
grounds to remedy the situation.

Also there are problems like low penetrations of mobile computing devices and lack of proper pricing
structure and payment mechanism, which have inhibited a rapid rollout of Wi-Fi (802.11).

WiMAX to the Rescue

The IEEE 802 group initiated the IEEE 802.16 Working Group to create standards for broadband wireless
access in order to offer a high-speed/capacity, low-cost, and scalable solution to extend fiber-optic
backbones. Hence WiMAX (IEEE 802.16 standard) was born. WiMAX is similar to Wi-Fi. Both create hot
spots or an area around a central antenna in which people can wirelessly share information or tap the
Internet with properly equipped devices.

The reason that WiMAX stands a better chance for rapid market adoption is as follows: WiMAX has well-
defined standard and industry interoperability. Standards are important for the wireless industry because
they enable economies of scale that can bring down the cost of equipment, ensure interoperability, and
reduce investment risk for operators. Standards also specify minimum performance criteria for equipment,
enabling a common broadband wireless access baseline platform that equipment manufacturers can use
as the foundation for ongoing innovations and faster time-to-market. With its broad industry support, the
802.16 standard allows the device manufacturers and solution vendors to achieve overall
price/performance improvements and open the mass-market opportunities that cannot be equaled by
proprietary approaches.

Technical Specifications of 802.16 (WiMAX)

IEEE 802.16, the first standard in the 802.16x family, supports point-to-multipoint architecture, operates at
up to 124 Mbps in the 28 MHz channel (in 10–66 GHz) and is primarily intended for line-of-sight (LOS)
applications. The 802.16a standard operates at 70 Mbps in lower frequency of 2–11 GHz spectrum, in the
20 MHz channel and enables nonline-of-sight (NLOS) implementations. Comparatively, DSL typically
operates at 128 Kbps to 1.5 Mbps and is slower on the upstream.

Figure 2: Shows the Licensed and Licensed-Exempted Spectrum

WiMAX offers broadband wireless access up to 50 km range as compared to Wi-Fi’s 100 m; 50 km is
achievable only under optimal conditions and with a reduced data rate (a few Mbps). Typical coverage will
be around 5 km with indoor CPE (NLOS) and around 15 km with a CPE connected to an external antenna

WiMAX operates in a mixture of licensed and unlicensed radio spectrum, and the initial products will be
focused on 2.5 GHz and 3.5 GHz licensed and 5.8 GHz unlicensed bands (though the full standard
supports a far wider range of bands) (see Figure 2). WiMAX has various features that make it suitable to
the longer distance. The 802.16a spec uses various physical layer (PHY) variants but the dominant one is
a 256-point orthogonal frequency division multiplexed (OFDM) carrier technology, giving it greater range
than WLANs, which are based on 64-point OFDM.

The PHY layer modulation is based on OFDM, in combination with a centralized medium access control
(MAC) layer for optimized resource allocation and support of QoS for different types of services (voice
over Internet protocol [VoIP], real-time and nonreal-time services). The OFDM PHY layer is well adapted
to the NLOS propagation environment in the 2–11 GHz frequency range. OFDM can provide a high
spectral efficiency of about 3–4 bit/s/Hz.

WiMAX is designed to accommodate either frequency division duplexing (FDD), which is more suited
to enterprise traffic, or time division duplexing (TDD), which is more adapted to asymmetrical traffic.
Cohabitation of FDD and TDD techniques is possible within the same bands, provided guard bands
are implemented.

WiMAX: Throughput, Flexibility, Scalability, and Security

IEEE 802.16 uses a robust modulation scheme, delivering high throughput at long ranges with a high
level of spectral efficiency that is also tolerant of signal reflections. Tradeoff of throughput for range can
be achieved by lowering the order of the modulation scheme at the base station.

WiMAX or IEEE 802.16 standard provides flexibility as wireless broadband access can be quickly and
easily set up at new and temporary sites, saving the time needed to get a T1 or DSL line connection. It
also provides flexibility in terms of channelization, carrier frequency, and duplex mode (TDD and FDD) to
meet a variety of requirements for available spectrum resources and targeted services.

The 802.16 standard is scalable, as with wireless broadband access it is easy to ramp up service at a
location for a short period of time—something that wired broadband access service providers currently do
not do. For example, if an operator is assigned 20 MHz of spectrum, that operator could divide it into two
sectors of 10 MHz each or 4 sectors of 5 MHz each. By focusing power on increasingly narrow sectors,
the operator can increase the number of users while maintaining good range and throughput.

WiMAX provides a MAC layer that uses a grant-request mechanism to authorize the exchange of data.
This feature allows better exploitation of the radio resources, in particular with smart antennas, and
independent management of the traffic of every user.

Market for WiMAX

WiMAX will succeed in every market—but for different reasons. In emerging markets, operators are
interested in using WiMAX for low-cost voice transport and delivery. In developed markets, WiMAX is all
about broadband Internet access. Overall, the markets without any fixed infrastructure pose the greatest

WiMAX success in the BWA market would be due to standardization, interoperability, state-of-the-art
radio efficiency with NLOS capability, and strong support from the radio equipment manufacturers and
chipset industries. WiMAX will open up three main markets:

• It will bridge the digital divide in low-density areas. The prime markets are in Western Europe,
North America, and some Asia-Pacific countries including China and India, which have huge
potential market for broadband users.

• It will offer high-speed Internet and voice access in urban and suburban areas. It will also support
nomadic usage.

• It will allow portable Internet application by providing broadband access on the move.

WiMAX is a serious threat to third generation (3G) because of its broadband capabilities, distance
capabilities, and ability to support voice effectively with full QoS. WiMAX can slash the single biggest cost
of deployment: access charges for linking a hotspot to a local phone or cable network. WiMAX integrates
perfectly into existing fixed and mobile networks. A high frequency version of 802.16 would allow
entrepreneurs to blast a narrow, data-rich beam between antennas miles apart.

Figure 3: The Mobile Standards Compared

The attraction of 802.16a is for service providers, giving them the potential, at relatively low cost, to
provide superior data services to 3G, penetrate rural areas, backhaul Wi-Fi hotspots, and compete with
cable/DSL networks. As there is widespread acceptance for fast mobile data, voice over WLAN and
broadband multimedia services in the present and the future, WiMAX could achieve mass market more
rapidly than Wi-Fi.

WiMAX is a very promising technology that meets the key requirements for BWA services, but its success
in the market is far from certain. Some of the key elements that will determine the success of WiMAX
include the following:

• Performance: So far, the specifications for WiMAX are still on paper (source WiMAX Forum, March
22, 2004), as there is no commercial product certified by the Forum and the final version of 802.16a
has not yet been approved. It is possible that the certification process will prove more arduous than
expected. There is also a possibility that real-life performance does not meet the expectations,
especially with regard to coverage range and CPE form factor, cost and ease of installation.

• Split of WiMAX into multiple semiproprietary solutions: 802.16a and the expected 802.16e standards
could complement each other, providing subscribers with a mix of fixed and mobile access.

Case Studies

There are no known current implementations of 806.16x wireless networking technology. In India, Bharat
Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) is ready to launch wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi), 802.11 standard, at Pune
airport in the month of August 2004. By the end of 2004 there will be public hotspot in Delhi, India. The
state-owned Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) would soon offer wireless Internet through
802.11b and 802.11g (Wi-Fi standards). MTNL would spend about Rs 1.5 crore initially to install hotspots
in 40 locations with 100 access points. Wi-Fi was installed in parts of Bangalore, India, in October 2003
by Sify. It built 120 WiZones in the city at about Rs 50,000 each.

802.20 Mobile Broadband Wireless Access (MBWA) and 802.16e

The IEEE 802.20 Working Group is a new wireless networking standard for Mobile Broadband Wireless
Access (MBWA). The 802.20 or Mobile-Fi standard defines the physical and MAC layers for a high-
bandwidth, IP–based, fully mobile wireless network. The group’s intention is to fill the gap between
existing 802 standards with high data rates and low mobility and existing cellular standards with low data
rates and high mobility.

The IEEE 802.16e standard is also addressing the need for high-bandwidth mobile wireless Internet
access within a metropolitan area. This will be similar in function to the general packet radio service
(GPRS) and the radio transmission technology (1xRTT). The 802.16e standard combines fixed and
mobile operation in licensed bands (2–6 GHz), approved in December 2002. There are some technical
differences between both the standards viz. 802.20 and 802.16e. For one, 802.16e will add mobility in the
2 to 6 GHz licensed bands, while 802.20 aims for operation in licensed bands below 3.5 GHz. More
importantly, the 802.16e specification will be based on an existing standard (802.16a), while 802.20 is
starting from scratch.

The 802.20 interface seeks to boost real-time data transmission rates in wireless metropolitan area
networks to speeds those on which rival DSL and cable connections (1 Mbps or more) are based, cell
ranges of up to 15 kilometers or more, and it plans to deliver those rates to mobile users even when they
are traveling at speeds up to 250 kilometers per hour (155 miles per hour). This would make 802.20 an
option for deployment in high-speed trains. The 802.16e project authorization request specifies that it will
only support subscriber stations moving at vehicular speeds of 120 to 150 kilometers per hour (75 to 93
miles per hour). Essentially, 802.16e is looking at the mobile user walking around with a PDA or laptop,
while 802.20 will address high-speed mobility issues. This key difference will define the manner in which
the two standards would be deployed.


WiMAX is the most important of the host of wireless standards emerging from the IEEE and 3G bodies.
We expect WiMAX to be the dominant technology for wireless networking, providing full mobility as well
as low cost fixed-broadband access. Its relationship with other wireless technologies is illustrated in
Figure 4.

Figure 4: Performance of Some Common Wireless Technologies

The 802.16x wireless networking standards—802.16a in particular—appear to be extremely promising for

reasonably inexpensive delivery of broadband Internet connectivity to multiple rural locations. WiMAX and
Wi-Fi will complement one another as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Overlapping Networks: 802.11x and 802.16a/e

WiMAX is attractive for a wide diversity of people: fixed operators, mobile operators, wireless Internet
service providers (WISPs), and equipment manufacturers and also for many vertical markets and local
authorities. The greater range and higher bandwidth of WiMAX gives operators and service providers the
ability to offer broadband Internet access directly to homes without having to worry about the problems
that can arise when laying down a physical connection over the last mile, which connects homes with
service providers’ main networks. The flexibility of wireless technology, combined with the high
throughput, scalability, long range and quality of service features of the IEEE 802.16 standard will help fill
the broadband coverage gaps. WiMAX is rightly a very effective replacement for the last mile for
broadband access and will undoubtedly become an inexpensive means of delivering high-speed data.


This paper is excerpted from the Broadband Wireless and WiMAX comprehensive report. For a full
overview of this report, a complete Table of Contents, and a listing of contributors,
please visit