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The 802.16 standard, amended this January by the IEEE to cover frequency bands in the range between 2 GHz and 11 GHz, specifies a metropolitan area networking protocol that will enable a wireless alternative for cable, DSL and T1 level services for last mile broadband access, as well as providing backhaul for 801.11 hotspots. The new 802.16a standard specifies a protocol that among other things supports low latency applications such as voice and video, provides broadband connectivity without requiring a direct line of sight between subscriber terminals and the base station (BTS) and will support hundreds if not thousands of subscribers from a single BTS. The standard will help accelerate the introduction of wireless broadband equipment into the marketplace, speeding up last-mile broadband deployment worldwide by enabling service providers to increase system performance and reliability while reducing their equipment costs and investment risks.
However it has been shown repeatedly that adoption of a standard does not always lead to adoption by the intended market. For a market to be truly enabled, products must be certified that they do adhere to the standard first, and once certified it must also be shown that they interoperate. Interoperability means the end user can buy the brand they like, with the features they want, and know it will work with all other like certified products. The IEEE does not fulfill this role, leaving it to private industry to take a given technological standard and drive it that last crucial mile for mass adoption. In the case of WLANs this role was and is fulfilled by the WiFi Alliance.1 For the Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) market and its 802.16 standard, this role is played by the Worldwide Microwave Interoperability Forum or WiMAX.
WiMAX is a non-profit industry trade organization that has been chartered to remove an important barrier to adoption of the standard by assuring demonstrable interoperability between system components developed by OEMs. WiMAX will develop conformance and interoperability test plans, select certification labs and will host interoperability events for IEEE 802.16 equipment vendors. By defining and conducting interoperability testing, and by awarding vendor systems a "WiMAX Certified™" label, WiMAX will model the approach pioneered by the WiFi Alliance that ignited the wireless LAN industry, bringing the same benefits to the BWA market segment.