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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Between WiFi and WiMax: The relationship



Features of the week:

Terminologies are daily being churned out for various aspects of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), including Wireless Fidelity (WiFi) and Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMax). REMMY NWEKE, examines the relationship between these two in this report.

A participant at an industry-based seminar recently in the Garden city of Port Harcourt, South-South Nigeria, was frustrated to leave literally before the end of the session.

When accosted on his way out, the response was as astonishing as it was revealing.

According to the participant, “some of these acronyms end up bringing confusion. I think I have heard enough for today. I have heard enough of WiFi and WiMax.”

This is due to the fact that there are too many jargons in the Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), which no doubt, discourage some interested stakeholders to follow the trends in the industry.

President, Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, agrees to the fact that too many acronyms have left some stakeholders at cross-roads with evolutions in the industry.

He also called for caution and consistency in development of these acronyms, such as WiFi and WiMax.

What is WiFi?

Defined as an interoperability of Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) system of connecting Personal Computers (PCs) among other devices within its standards of 802.11 and above, as certified by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), is a component of a series of wireless specifications together with 802.11, 802.11a, 802.11g.

In other words, any WiFi certified product could be deployed or use at any access point with the other ranges of similar brand, that is 2.4 Gega Hertz (GHz) for 802.11b or 11g, 5GHz for 802.11a, dual-band among others, are known to be compatible with any other wireless radio frequency standards, even if not “WiFi Certified.”

And in order to actualise the dreams of proponents of this standard, WiFi zones also known as hotspots are created around the world for accessibility of travellers and mobile people as at when and where required.

Just as it is meant to provide free access to both providers and users, whilst the services are paid for via the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who are expected to issue the user with a WiFi access number for a fee.

This gave rise to the evolution’s initial presence via hotspots mainly at international conference centres, hotels and airports to name a few.

WiFi Alliance

This paved the way for the setting up of WiFi Alliance, which promulgates and certifies related products for global consumption.

Established in 1999 by several industry leaders, WiFi Alliance is a non-profit organisation (NGO) with the goal of driving the adoption of a single worldwide-accepted standard for high-speed Wireless LAN (WLAN).

With over 250 members and still growing, the Alliance tends to expand through businesses, homes, and public hotspots by providing wireless access locations for people on-the-go.

Till date, several universal specifications numbering over 2,500 products, have been developed which passed through rigorous testing and WiFi certification of wireless devices.

Certifications, WiFi Alliance explained, are carried out to define how member products are tested to certify that they are interoperable with other WiFi certified products. The group has currently about 10 independent test laboratories scattered globally in North America, Europe, Taiwan, Japan, Spain, Korea, Germany and China.

On successful testing of a product, the concerned entity is granted the WiFi seal of interoperability and may choose to display the WiFi Certified logo on that product, which is based on individual product success story.

What is WiMax?

WiMax, conversely, is an acronym which stands for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMax) and has been described as a standard-based technology that enables delivery to the last mile wireless broadband access as an alternative to cable and Digital Subscriber Line (DSL).

It now has a forum which propagates its development, known as WiMax Forum.

The forum made up of leading operators and communications component as well as equipment manufacturers which resolved to promote and certify the compatibility and interoperability of broadband wireless access equipment that conforms to IEEEs and European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI), mostly on its HiperMAN standards.

Cetecom link

As at July 2005, Cetecom Spain, began to validate member-company products’ scripts used and during certification. With presence in over 125 countries and membership across 350 companies, WiMax forum is seen as representing the entire organisation.

And by January 19 this year, the first batch of four fixed wireless broadband network products to achieve the designation of WiMAX Forum Certified (WCA) were announced. These companies and products that completed certification and interoperability testing, included Aperto Networks’ PacketMAX 5000 base station, Redline Communications’ RedMAX AN-100U base station, SEQUANS Communications’ SQN2010 SoC base station solution, and Wavesat’s miniMAX Customer Premise Equipment (CPE) solution.

Just as Cetecom lab confirmed 26 additional reservations from manufacturers for testing slots for both subscriber and base station equipment certification. And in order to handle this additional capacity, Cetecom said, it already has a multiple test lines for these products; a process that lasted till March, when forum’s meeting was held in France along the 3rd session on Plugfest.

President, WiMax Forum Mr. Ron Resnick, said that the latest fixed wireless broadband network products used that achieved the designation of WiMax certified were based on the defined Frequency Division Duplexing (FDD) system profile operating in the 3.5GHz frequency spectrum.

Some of the forum member-companies and products to complete certification and interoperability testing in this regard, he said, include Airspan’s MacroMAX base station and EasyST subscriber station solution, Axxcelera’s ExcelMax base station, SEQUANS Communications’ SQN1010-RD subscriber station solution, Siemens’ WayMAX@vantage base station and subscriber station solutions, and Wavesat’s miniMAX subscriber station solution.

Mr. Resnick, who also is Director, Marketing, Broadband Wireless Division, Intel Corporation, explained that certification is based on equipment supplier conduct of an extensive series of test procedures, consisting of protocol conformance, radio conformance and interoperability testing.

“To date, 14 fixed WiMAX products have received the WiMAX Forum Certified seal in the two months since the programme first started certifying equipment. By achieving the certifications of FDD profile equipment, the WiMAX Forum and our members continue to make significant progress in delivering products that help network operators build out their fixed WiMAX networks,” he said.

For the senior analyst, broadband access technologies at the Yankee Group, Lindsay Schroth, the first availability of fixed WiMAX equipment is a demonstration of the commitment of the Forum, the vendors and the providers to reaching their critical milestones.”

Emphasising, “This is a crucial step in the process of developing and certifying both fixed and mobile WiMAX networks. We expect this announcement to impact the deployment time tables of large and small service providers around the world that will use fixed WiMAX networks as a way to deliver true broadband services to consumers and business users.”

Between WiFi and WiMax

One good thing about these two, according to experts is that both co-exist and become increasingly complementary technologies for their respective applications.

Simply put, new standards within the specification of 802.11 is WiFi while those beyond 802.11, such as 802.16 is known as WiMAX, and offer many enhancements, anywhere from longer range to greater transfer speeds.

Formerly, the term “WiFi” was used only in place of the 2.4GHz 802.11b standard, in the same way that “Ethernet” is used in place of IEEE 802.3. The Alliance expanded the generic use of the term in an attempt to stop confusion about wireless LAN interoperability, as upheld by experts at www.webopedia.com.

Experts at WiMax forum, were optimistic that WiMax technology will be incorporated in most notebook computers and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) by next year, 2007, hence allowing for urban areas and cities to become “metro zones” for portable outdoor broadband wireless access.

According to experts at Internetworld365.com, WiFi is another name for IEEE 802.11 and is a term coined by the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA). Products certified as WiFi by WECA are interoperable with each other even if they are from different manufacturers. A user with a WiFi product could use any brand of Access Point with any other brand of client hardware that is built to the WiFi standard. WECA has since transformed into WiFi Alliance

WiFi, experts noted, was intended to be used for mobile devices and LANs, but is now often used for Internet access, allowing a person with a wireless-enabled computer or PDAs to connect to the Internet when in proximity of an access point. The geographical region covered by one or several access points is called a hotspot.

WiFi also allows connectivity in peer-to-peer mode, which enables devices to connect directly with each other. This connectivity mode is useful in consumer electronics and gaming applications, as said by Wikipedia online.

A person with a WiFi device, such as a computer, telephone, or PDA can connect to the Internet when in proximity of an access point.

Today

In Nigeria today, companies deploying either WiFi or WiMax have taken their trade to various parts of the country.

Today, WiFi is being deployed in some offices even in Nigeria, where a good number of staff prefer to have mobile Internet access, such as in Laptops and handheld devices that have internet compatibility and certified for such deployment.

Managing Director, NetnearU, Wireless Internet Solution provider, Mr. Kaycee Kennedy, said as at first quarter, that, his firm has over 327 hotspots nationwide and would tackle the challenges faced in deployment of Internet linked PC in the country, as well as the issue of affordability, and reaching out to rural areas.

Given the rise and rise of wireless access availability, Dr. Ekuwem, while peeping into the future and fusion of WiFi and WiMax in the Unified Licensing Regime (ULR) which took off in Nigeria last March 1, predicted that by end of 2008, about 50 per cent of household in the country would have internet access.

Speaking at a one-day seminar on Internet service in the ULR organised by the Nigeria Internet Group (NIG), Dr. Ekuwem posited that it is anticipated that before this year ends, that mobile WiMax would be readily available in most cities in the country.

“Mobile WiMax would triple the efforts of Third Generation (3G) features” he declared, citing an instance with BreezeMAX, which is Alvarion’s 3G OFDM platform, that comes with advanced Non-Line-of-Sight (NLOS) functionality and is a leading WiMAX-ready platform.

He expressed optimism that WiMax has the capability to act as a vehicle in the evolution of the fixed broadband wireless market to widespread availability of mobile broadband and reflects our commitment to the future of WiMAX.

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