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Q&A: Declan Byrne Discusses the Basics of WiMAX

April 2, 2015
Declan Byrne, President of the WiMAX Forum, discusses the essentials of WiMAX.

1. Where is WiMAX being used today?  U.S. and elsewhere?

WiMAX is still being used by hundreds of operators around the world to provide high speed Internet to end-users. However, much of WiMAX’s new growth in the U.S. and worldwide is happening within industrial markets such as Aviation, Utilities/Smart Grid, Oil & Gas and Transportation. WiMAX Forum has been working diligently with these markets to define certain technical profiles that address the very specific requirements of these markets. In addition, the communication of these markets tends to be “upload-centric” (as opposed to the consumer and mobile markets that are “download-centric.”)  As a technology, WiMAX is flexible enough to be customized for the upload needs of these vertical markets, whereas LTE cannot and WiFi has security and other concerns associated with any unlicensed radio technology.

The WIMAX industry continues to evolve to meet the world’s wireless broadband needs, which have changed greatly over the past few years. In spite of the surge in LTE globally, it will take several years for it to be fully adopted, especially in geographies like Africa and India or in rural areas (even in the United States) where Internet infrastructures are still in their development stages. WiMAX is an affordable, high throughput platform that brings a stable, tested system to these markets. We have developed a WiMAX Advanced technical profile which enables ISPs to deploy WiMAX today, to address their fixed wireless access needs, but offers a scalable, low-cost migration path to LTE. 

2. What are the main applications these days?

As mentioned above, future opportunities for WiMAX lie in several industrial markets:

Aviation – WiMAX uniquely fulfills the aviation industry’s need for a standard platform technology for airport surface communications known as the Aeronautical Mobile Airport Communication System, or AeroMACS. The aviation community (including the FAA and EUROCONTROL) has selected this WiMAX-based platform as the primary next generation wireless communications technology to be used for air traffic control, airlines and airport management & operations.

Smart Cities – WiMAX provides backhaul and endpoint connectivity for Smart Cities.  By 2016, it is estimated that $39.5 billion will be spent annually on Smart City technologies related to Asset Management (buses, police and emergency vehicles), smart parking meters, traffic management and security (wireless cameras for government buildings and other facilities). 

Oil & Gas – In the Oil & Gas industry, WiMAX supports rig-to-ship and rig-to-shore communications, real-time data gathering, automated monitoring and alert systems and more. In addition, the technology can be used to create a communications grid across the pipeline assets, enabling in-field communication and around-the-clock surveillance.

Smart Grid – In the utility market, WiMAX is the optimal Broadband Wireless Access technology for wireless communications. The rise of Smart Machines and M2M communication calls for more robust and secure (private) data networks that are owned by the utility, as opposed to the traditional commercial (public) networks available today.

3. What are the most common frequency assignments?

WiMAX infrastructure operates in the sub-6 GHz frequency bands. Much of the frequencies used depend heavily on particular countries and their local regulations.

The standard frequencies include licensed as well as license free bands. The commonly used bands are 2.3, 2.5, 3.5, 3.65 and 5.8 GHz. There have also been some vendors who have developed equipment to operate in additional frequencies such as 700 MHz and 4.9 GHz bands.

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4. Is an FCC spectrum license needed to use WiMAX?

For any wireless operation, licensed, private frequency band allocation is ideal. Allowing an operator to deploy networks with zero interference. In the U.S., there are many licenses owned by a number of operators in the 700 MHz, 2.3 GHz, and 2.5 GHz. How?  Typically at a very high cost to the operator.

For smaller operators, often license-free or semi-licensed operation is the only viable option. These operators can deploy in the semi-licensed 3.65 GHz, requiring a small registration fee and equipment location reporting, or in the 5.8 GHz unlicensed band. The FCC is in the process of evaluating whether to add the 50 MHz of the 3.65 GHz band for semi-licensed use – the plan is called the Citizen’s Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) regulatory plan and the FCC vote is expected on April 17, 2015. Incumbents in the 3.65 GHz band include critical infrastructure operators such as Utilities and Oil & Gas companies, alongside hundreds of small Wireless Internet Service Providers mainly serving rural America.

5. Is a license needed to adopt WiMAX?

Spectrum allowance varies by country, and in the U.S., the FCC assigns frequencies.  Unlicensed wireless technologies don’t require any permission, so long as products and users comply with the rules associated with that unlicensed band.  However, unlicensed wireless technologies are, by nature, more vulnerable to interference. 

6. What semi companies make WiMAX chips?

The WiMAX chipset ecosystem has a number of heavyweight players, including Intel, Motorola, Samsung and Fujitsu. These companies are making particularly strong progress in lowering the cost for WiMAX-embedded laptops, netbooks and MIDs (mobile internet devices) through developments at the chipset level.

7. What are the top WiMAX equipment makers?

There are several companies manufacturing different components for WiMAX technology, some examples are Greenpacket – for customer premises equipment; Sequans – for chipsets; Siemens – for rugged WiMAX; and Telrad Networks – for Operator and ISP equipment.

In aviation, alongside traditional manufacturers such as Gemtek, Sequans and GCT Semiconductor, a host of new entrants are developing and delivering AeroMACS solutions. The new entrants include familiar names such as Hitachi, Thales, Selex, Siemens and General Electric. The Avionics industry is becoming involved as well including companies such as Honeywell, Rockwell Collins and Teledyne.

8. Is WiMAX use growing or declining?

The growth rate for WiMAX has certainly slowed for traditional Telecom Internet access markets in the last couple of years with the growth of LTE. However, until LTE addresses the needs of the fixed wireless access market, we will continue to see WiMAX’ sustained participation in this market. Reports show that the WiMAX subscriber base surpassed 35 million users in 2012. Meanwhile, the technology is seeing exponential growth in specific vertical markets such as aviation.

9. What is the latest IEEE WiMAX version, 802.16m or other?

In 2011, IEEE announced its 802.16m standard, an amendment to the 802.16 specification. With backwards compatibility, WiMAX 2.0 provides a graceful migration path for today’s WiMAX operators to further enhance current network performance.

Last year, the WiMAX Forum formed of a strong, strategic partnership with the Global TD-LTE Initiative to support the latest standard, which we call WiMAX Advanced™. The relationship is serving as a foundation to guarantee that WiMAX Advanced is fully compatible with TD-LTE, which ensures that WiMAX operators are able to share economy of scale of TD-LTE and provide service with either BWA or International Mobile Telecom (IMT)-Advanced network implementations. 

Many telecom operators are seeking to expand their device ecosystem to include LTE, faced with building a transition path at a rate that supports their business. With this harmonization of WiMAX and TDD LTE, some operators have already successfully deployed LTE TDD networks in parallel with their existing WiMAX networks. For example, UQ Communications in Japan has implemented plans to leverage newly awarded 2.5 GHz spectrum to upgrade its existing network from WiMAX to WiMAX Advanced, enabling the support of TDD LTE devices.  At the same time, certain infrastructure suppliers are supporting this vision, launching dual mode solutions to enable a seamless transition with just a simple software upgrade. 

10. Where can I get the latest news on WiMAX?

Go to the website at

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