The UK is likely to see its first deployment of the mobile WiMax standard around the middle of next year, but as a substitute for fixed broadband rather than a new mobile technology.
According to Stephane LeDreau, Nortel's wireless business leader for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the telecommunications equipment manufacturer has an agreement with an unnamed UK provider to use its new MIMO-powered mobile WiMax — also known as IEEE 802.16e — system.
"We have today an agreement with a company to provide them with a WiMax trial system at the beginning of next year," LeDreau told ZDNet UK on Thursday, explaining that this company had a "fixed 3.5GHz licence but will use a 802.16e solution to fulfil this deployment".
The 3.5GHz band is owned by Pipex, although the internet service provider (ISP) denied on Thursday afternoon that it was working with Nortel. Pipex has already worked with vendor Airspan in trialling a fixed WiMax (802.16d) system that should be software-upgradeable to the mobile flavour of WiMax.
WiMax is a long-range wireless technology that has sometimes been described as "Wi-Fi on steroids", but which has the capacity to offer a very high-bandwidth, symmetrical alternative to both wired broadband and wireless technologies such as 3G.
The UK spectrum thought most likely to be used for mobile WiMax — a standard only recently agreed — is in the range of 2.5-2.69GHz, but there is currently fierce debate over who should get access to this band. One lobby wants it to remain a so-called 3G-extension band, reserved only for the 3G-derived technologies that are becoming known as long-term evolution (LTE), but others want it kept technology-neutral.
But, until a decision on the spectrum's use is made next year, the only way to use 802.16e in the UK is as a more advanced alternative to 802.16d — fixed WiMax — as a point-to-point or point-to-multipoint wireless technology, as Nortel has described.
"There is nothing to prevent using the 16e standard for fixed WiMax — all the benefits can be leveraged into a fixed environment," LeDreau explained, describing Nortel's unnamed customer as "looking to provide a DSL-like type of service" with a target deployment date of "the middle of next year".
Nortel announced its new 802.16e system on Tuesday, claiming it to be the first of its kind. The key advance in this system is that it uses MIMO — multiple input multiple output — technology from end to end, as well as the more established orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) standard.
The system is capable of throughput of up to 35Mbps in its current 2x2 MIMO configuration, although LeDreau claimed a 4x4 configuration, scheduled to be released by the end of 2007, would enable even higher capacity.
MIMO uses multiple transmitters and antennae to provide increased bandwidth and maximise spectral efficiency, and is also integral to the upcoming Wi-Fi standard 802.11n. Previous WiMax technologies have mostly been based instead on SISO (single input single output) technology, which uses adaptive antennae and, according to LeDreau, involves higher cost and lower efficiency.
Both MIMO and OFDM are also involved in 3G's evolutionary path, but Nortel — which recently sold off its 3G access business to Alcatel — owns a large number of patents in both technologies and would benefit from the success of either 3G LTE or WiMax.
The only notable deployment of WiMax in the UK thus far has been that by Urban WiMax, an 802.16d-based business service which has been successfully trialled and will become commercially available in the Westminster area by the end of this year.
In related news, Intel announced on Wednesday that its system-on-chip next-generation dual-mode mobile WiMax base-station chip — known until recently as Rosedale II but now called Intel WiMax Connection 2250 — is now shipping.