First Mobile WiMAX products certified (in Korea)  

The WiMax Forum has certified the first Mobile WiMax products, announcing this week that four base stations and four data cards have received the Forum seal. Though the first “official” Mobile WiMax products in the market, they are targeted solely on the South Korean market where Korea Telecom has been operating a pre-WiMax network for two years.

The first wave of WiMax testing essentially certifies Samsung and its partners, who have pushed for its WiBro technology’s inclusion into the WiMax standard. Based on the same IEEE 802.16e as traditional mobile WiMax, WiBro uses unique frequencies (2.3 GHz) and odd channel sizes (9 MHz), and the equipment can only be sold in Korea. The gear is also probably the only WiMax line that will not include support for multiple input-multiple output (MIMO) smart antenna technologies.

That’s all fine by Korea Telecom, which immediately stated it would begin using the new certified products in its now-WiMax network. KT first launched commercial service in 2005 using Samsung gear and has signed up 100,000 subscribers and sold a variety of devices from laptop dongles to miniature computers.

While the certification of Wave 1 products for Korea is a mainly a milestone, the forum said it signals the ramping up of its interoperability and compliance testing throughout its global lab network. With the first wave under its belt, the forum will now move ahead much more quickly in its certification efforts for North American and global products, said Ron Resnick, WiMax Forum president.

“Stay tuned,” Resnick said in a statement. “We expect this momentum to continue throughout the year when the first products for the 2.5 GHz frequency achieve certification in the coming months.”

The 2.5 GHz licenses are owned by Sprint and Clearwire in the US, and Wave 2 certification is expected to produce the first base stations, home gateway and PC card products for their networks. While Resnick gave no exact date for those first products to appear, they will likely coincide with or shortly follow Sprint’s commercial launch of Xohm this quarter.

The forum also has a lot of other profiles on its plate. Global 3.5 GHz frequencies have also been identified as optimal for WiMax and have spawned numerous trials in Europe as well as small-scale commercial rollouts. The forum has also said it would certify gear at 700 MHz to support the networks of the recent auction winners.

The forum’s certification priorities, however, follow the interests of its large operator and vendor membership closely. KT was the first WiMax operator to launch, thus WiBro was the first profile certified. Sprint is next, and therefore its 2.5 GHz MIMO profile is the next to hit the labs. As more major operators make their 4G network decisions, the forum as well as its vendor membership will likely fall in lockstep.

BT has been contemplating expanding its WiFi wireless strategy to the wide area network using WiMax and is likely to participate in the upcoming 2.6 GHz auction in the UK. Japan has also become a hotspot for WiMax as the consortium UQ communications plans a nationwide rollout covering 90% of the population by 2012, using the same 2.5 GHz spectrum allocated in the US. However, UQ member KDDI is reportedly considering following in fellow CDMA operators Verizon’s footsteps in pursuing Long Term Evolution. India is another big market, having recently produced not one but two major operators pursuing large-scale broadband access plans using WiMax, one also at 2.5 GHz, the other at 3.3 GHz.

With all of the interest in 2.5 GHz, the next wave of certification will be a highly active one. The forum expects hundreds of products to be certified by the end of the year, the majority of them Wave 2, as opposed to the eight that came out of Wave 1. Most vendors opted to skip Wave 1 entirely since Samsung has a lock on the KT contract. All four vendors participating—Samsung, Posdata, Runcom and Sequans--had base stations certified. Sequans Communications won approval for a reference design built around its base-station chip, a clear indication it’s seeking OEM agreements with other manufacturers to get into the Korean WiMax business.

At the WiMax World Congress in Singapore this week, Motorola also unveiled a new compact base station, though it did not get it certified by the forum. The WAP 450 is a variant of its traditional Moto Wi4 Diversity base station, except it has a more powerful radio frequency module at the tower top. The RF module receives direct power, thus enhancing its capacity and coverage without directly boosting power consumption. Traditional ground base stations shed half of their power funneling their signals through cables to the antenna.

Motorola and UTStarcom also announced they have landed a joint contract with First International Telecom to build out a WiMax network in northern Taiwan. The deal is Motorola’s third in Taiwan in eight months.

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