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802.20, 802.16e throw curveballs at 3G

Apr 21, 20032 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork SecurityWAN

* WAN mobility: So many choices, so little time

At the Broadband Wireless World 2003 show in San Jose earlier this month, it was apparent that alternative technologies based on emerging 802.16e and 802.20 standards will join 802.11 LANs to rival traditional 2.5/3G technologies for mobile data services.

As you likely know, current per-user throughput speeds delivered by today’s mobile WANs are akin to those of landline dial-up modems. And if ubiquitous 3G networking ever does get here, will its 144K to 2M bit/sec speeds be too little too late for wireless data? After all, when carriers embarked along their 3G deployment paths, they were interested primarily in expanding capacity to support more voice calls – not optimizing their networks for wireless data.

So competition first sneaked onto the mobile data scene in the form of 802.11b-based wireless LAN (WLAN) hotspots, which provide multimegabit speeds per user in public places (albeit in a limited coverage range). Hotspots are emerging, says Craig Mathias, principal of wireless consultancy the Farpoint Group, because providing WLAN service in any given area costs about 13% of what it would cost to provision wide-area wireless data service. This is because WLAN access points cost much less than cellular infrastructure equipment, and there are no WLAN licensing fees he says. 

Now, enter new mobile air interfaces being specified by the IEEE 802.16e and 802.20 working groups. These newer standards were among the hot topics at this month’s Broadband Wireless World.

802.16e is in development to add mobility to stations that primarily support fixed wireless networking in the 2 to 6 GHz bands. 802.20 is specified for the 500 MHz to 3.5 GHz range for “full mobility.” It is the venue being used by equipment makers with alternatives to the Code Division Multiple Access- and GSM-based 3G paths to attempt to get their technologies blessed by the IEEE so they will be considered legitimate for large-scale deployment.

The IEEE formed 802.20 last December specifically to target packet-based, IP wireless networks. Led by companies such as Flarion Technologies and ArrayComm, the group had its first meeting in March and is focused on enabling user network connections at speeds competitive to those offered by DSL and cable modem services (about 1M bit/sec), even while users are traveling in vehicles at speeds to 150 miles or 250 kilometers per hour, says Flarion’s senior marketing director Ronny Haraldsvik. Meanwhile, handoffs between 802.20 networks and 802.11-based LANs have been successfully demonstrated and will likely be part of the specifications, he says.