Major chip and wireless equipment manufacturers announced plans to back development of standards-based wireless metropolitan-area network (Man) products that can provide 70Mbit/sec of broadband data over a 30-mile range to customers.
The companies, all members of the Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) alliance, believe that by basing their products on the IEEE 802.16 wireless Man standard, they can achieve the same economies of scale seen in WLan products based on the IEEE 802.11b standard, according to WiMAX president Margaret Labrecque.
Labrecque said that alliance companies, which include Airspan Networks, Alvarion, Aperto Networks, Ensemble Communications, Fujitsu, Intel, Nokia, Proxim and Wi-LAN, expect to start shipping products in the second half of next year.
The 802.16 standard supports operation in a number of licensed and unlicensed frequency bands, including 1GHz to 2GHz. Wi-Fi WLan gear now in wider use operating in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The 802.16 standard also supports operation in the 10GHz band and from 12GHz to 66 GHz.
WiMAX envisions 802.16 products as a cost-effective alternative to exisitng broadband options. Wireless base station equipment would cost under $20,000 (£12,868), with each base station capable of serving 60 enterprise customers with T1 circuits as well as a mix of residential and small business customers at lower DSL-type speeds of 256K or 384Kbit/sec.
WiMAX also views 802.16-based systems as ideal to handle "backhaul" from 802.11b Wi-Fi hot spots - such as those being installed nationwide by Intel-backed Cometa Networks to a high-speed network connection.
An 802.11b card would not work on an 802.16 network, although a router could serve as a bridge between the two wireless systems.
Dean Chang, director of product development at Aperto Networks, a manufacturer of broadband wireless equipment, said he expected to see a quick drop in the cost of customer premise equipment (CPE) next year, once the industry adopts the standard.
CPE gear is priced between $500 (£322) and $1,000 per installation. Chang expects that to drop to $300 (£193) once 802.16 equipment hits the market next year and, eventually, down to the $30 price range of today's Lan Wi-Fi cards.
Craig Mathias, an analyst at Farpoint Group, said he believed that Intel intends to add 802.16 chip sets to its portfolio of wireless products, which includes Centrino chips with built-in WLan functionality, which were introduced last month.
Jeff Orr, product marketing manager in the fixed wireless division of Proxim, said 802.16 CPE gear would come in a small package and will include "self-install" window mount antennas as well as rooftop equipment.
The IEEE is also working on a mobile 802.16e standard which, Mathias predicted, could eventually rival 802.11b products.
But Chang, who is the chairman of the IEEE 802.16e subcommittee, said that he expected completion of the final specifications by the end of the year.