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IEEE raises the bar on 802.16 [

The IEEE has opened a new working group in the 802.16 standard, best known as WiMAX.

The group’s aim is nothing to develop a new version of the technology capable of gigabit speeds. This would, if successful, put the LTE and EV-DO Revision C communities’ feet to the fire in terms of 4G.

WiMAX was born of 802.11, and 802.11 itself is a descendant of the time honoured 802.3 standard, better known as Ethernet. To be precise, 802.11 is a version of the familiar Ethernet LAN using radio rather than Cat 5e cables.

WiMAX takes this a step further – its fixed/nomadic flavour, 802.16d, operates as Layer 2 Ethernet, just like WLAN or wireline LAN.

Ethernet itself has also proven to be the network that just keeps giving. Since the original standard offered 1Mbps wired LAN, speeds have risen to 10Mbps and then 100Mbps with the Fast Ethernet standard, the introduction of Layer 2 switching with a major gain in efficiency, greater range, the arrival of Gigabit Ethernet, yet more range, and now 10 Gigabit Ethernet.

It has benefited from thirty years of continuous, gradual improvement, what is known in Japanese as kaizen.

From office LANs, Ethernet has become a metropolitan area networking technology and the speeds that can be supported at each range have steadily risen. 10GigE is now available over fibre for metro networks, and there is a standards group at work on pushing those speeds and ranges onto copper wire.

WiMAX is essentially metro Ethernet over radio links – in fact, before it was called WiMAX, some of the work involved was carried out by an ETSI standards group called HiperMAN, as in metropolitan area networking (MAN).

There is a mild historical irony here – before Ethernet, there was a research project at the University of Hawaii called Alohanet that originated most of its principles. And that was a radio network linking the campuses on different islands. So it should hardly come as a surprise that the same incremental improvement is at work.

But the technology will be under pressure. Samsung and Nortel have already demonstrated 1Gbps wireless communication in lab or semi-lab conditions using their interpretations of LTE technology.

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