Washington (UPI) June 7, 2005
By the end of this year wireless customers in selected areas of the United States will be able to use a single long-range technology for their laptops, cell phones and hand-held interactive devices, with one server covering a distance of up to 10 miles, experts told United Press International.
Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access -- or WiMAX, as it is called -- is a rapidly growing radio-frequency standard that is similar to wireless fidelity, or WiFi, but can broadcast and receive much farther. Experts think WiMAX can become a global standard that can serve all telecom users' needs wherever they go.
"As broadband and DSL are growing there is a significant push in parts of the world for connectivity and WiMAX can fill this," said Mohammad S. Shakouri, vice president of the WiMAX Forum in Mountain View, Calif.
Shakouri said the forum was created to develop the technical standards for WiMAX and bring companies together to discuss new business models for the next digital age. He said more than 300 companies from around the globe have joined the forum so far, including chip-making giant Intel and many industry start-ups. More than one-third of the group consists of carriers, including AT&T, Qwest and the major telecom firms in Great Britain, France and South Korea.
He said there is an estimated half-billion-dollar global market right now, including in cities and developing countries, but within a few years WiMAX is expected to grow into a multibillion-dollar industry. Because many developing countries and rural areas do not have the built-in cables needed for broadband, WiMAX offers a cheaper and more unified solution.
WiMAX also is expected to become popular for users who want the same service for all their mobile devices, regardless of their location, he said.
"With this you could get global coverage, use a frequency that has a global standard so you could go to any country in the world and use your laptop," Shakouri said.
Intel spokesman Mark Miller said he sees WiMAX as something that both people and businesses will rely on in the future.
"It will be the one more thing that people budget for like water. They need to be connected," Miller said. "Right now for my cell phone Intel pays for it and the plan, but if I use for personal use then I contribute. That's the business model we envision."
Security will be less of a concern with WiMAX because there will be end-points that can be protected by company security, much like cellular networks vs. wireless, he said.
"If people aren't feeling comfortable online then they won't get online, and security has been a big concern from chipmakers to industry-makers," Miller said. "Going into WiFi people really didn't understand the problems. There will be security efforts on the standard front and from the chipmakers. There will be end to end point security."
One sign there already is a growing market for large wireless networks is the emergence of the Metropolitan Area Networks popping up in cities, he said.
"Right now, cities have various meshed networks, and that's great because it shows us that people are interested in this, but it's like having a thousand light bulbs to upkeep -- now they'll just have two," Miller said.
What will really make WiMAX popular is its integrated standard and worldwide mobility, said Greg Phillips, the chief executive officer of AirTegrity Wireless Inc. in Stateline, Nev.
Phillips has been a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' 802.16 committee -- which sets standards for fixed and mobile telecommunications -- and has acted as a liaison to the International ITU-T standards committee.
"We realize we need to coexist," Phillips said, "because the two standards are working closely together there will be cohesion. Hopefully we won't see the VHS vs. Beta war going on and that's why the talks are so important."
AirTegrity and its partners have begun testing in Reno, Nev., and though users have shown enthusiasm for the fixed WiMAX capabilities, the mobile ones have elicited a much greater response, he said.
"The numbers for fixed devices are certainly strong, and being invested in, but it's not until we see numbers attached to mobility that are very strong and that's where we see investors getting excited," Phillips said. "We've seen that with India with the great adoption of the cell phone -- people want mobility."
WiMAX carriers will be pitted against broadband, DSL and cell-phone carriers for customers, he said.
"If you think about cell phones today, they're really limited. What we're really doing is turning them into broadband devices," Phillips said. "There will be a market play between the traditional cell-phone companies and the IEEE cell phone."
He said WiMAX could make a huge difference in developing countries and rural areas that have experienced very slow connections or have been unable to pay cable fees to establish service.
"It will allow other nations to engage more effectively where they were before constrained," Phillips said. "India and China already have a huge push going for them already," but the biggest changes will be in Latin America and Africa, which are still catching up.
"India and China won't be level," he said, "they'll be beyond us."
He said he expects a station to cost between $500 and $600 initially and go down drastically in price as the chips become cheaper to manufacture.
"There's a huge number of people that have never been introduced to telephony and they'll be introduced to broadband at almost the same time," Phillips said. "Think of all the people introduced to mainstream media. They'll be able to receive newscasts, education and even commercial use on these devices."
Lisa Pickoff-White covers technology for UPI Science News. E-mail: email@example.com
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