Since 2006, the IEEE has been developing the new WiMAX standard, known as 802.16m. In April 2010, Intel announced plans to collaborate with large mobile industry giants Samsung and Motorola with the goal of accelerating the interoperability of 802.16m. The trio of companies formed a group tentatively named the WiMAX 2 Collaboration Initiative with the sole purpos of testing 4G applications over WiMAX 2 networks.
According to Declan Byrne, marketing director of the WiMAX Forum industry group, the 802.16m WiMAX 2 standard is expected to be finalized by IEEE in November 2010, with intentions to certify devices based on the standard throughout 2011. "The standard is due to be finalized in November, then hardware is expected to be ratified through 2011 before getting bolted to towers in 2012 where it will, thankfully, be fully compatible with O.G. WiMAX devices," says Byrne.
The WiMAX 2 standard is expected to bring theoretical download speeds of up to 100Mbps, according to WiMAX Forum Vice President Mohammad Shakouri. In contrast, Sprint's initial Xohm WiMax offering, which debuted commercially in 2008, delivered downlink speeds ranging between 3.7Mbps and 5Mbps. Although the new standard boasts major speed provisions over its predecessor, Shakouri states that WiMAX 2 signals shouldn't be expected to propagate any further than currently WiMAX technology. Both standards have a radius limit around 31 square miles per access point.
The IEEE has also noted that 802.16m will also be backward compatible with 802.16e, the current WiMAX standard used by mobile network providers in the United States.In other words, wireless ISPs should have no trouble upgrading to the new standards, the upgrades should come at relatively low costs, and access point technicians should have very minimal networks disruptions during the transition process.
Although WiMAX 2 may be approved to roll out as early as 2011, it shouldn't be expected to deploy in the US until early 2012. Clearwire is currently the only major US carrier to operate a wireless network based on the existing 802.16e WiMAX 1 standard. The company has also announced that it will be satisfied with its current WiMAX network for the next few years. However, the company made headlines when it announced plans to conduct trials of LTE (Long Term Evolution) 4G network infrastructure in Phoenix, Arizona. Declan Byrne, marketing director of the WiMAX Forum industry group, said he was "surprised" by Clearwire's interest in deploying a nationwide LTE network, but believes the company is still committed to WiMAX and that the company could possibly operate both LTE and WiMAX networks in the US simultaneously.
All in all, both LTE and WiMAX 2 technologies have garnered the interests of many wireless industry experts as the worldwide spectrum crisis continues to widen. Cisco Chief Technology Officer Padma Warrier recently projected that she expects a total of 1 trillion wireless devices to be connected to the Internet by 2013. "The Internet is no longer just an information superhighway, it's a platform," Warrior said, citing the increased adoption of mobile-to-mobile technologies and the exponential growth of apps. The biggest reason for growth is within the realm of video consumption. Industry experts project the amount of mobile video streaming to become approximate two-thirds of all mobile Internet traffic in 2013. As a company, Cisco believes mobile Internet traffic will reach around 1.3 exabytes in just three years from now. With the advent of high definition Stereoscopic 3D content streaming to mobile devices very soon, the projected numbers and growing mobile traffic concerns are not easily ignored.
If the IEEE can finalize WiMAX 2 on time, unlike the 802.11n WiFi standard, and successfully deploy to networks to meet the constraints of growing wireless demand, we could all very well be on our ways to utilizing theoretical 100Mbps connections with more mobile freedom than ever before.