San Jose, Calif. - Fujitsu Microelectronics wants to be the first company with silicon for a new air connection interface that some believe could serve as a universal backbone for today's Wi-Fi wireless LANs.
Approved by the IEEE in January, 802.16a specifies a wireless connection between a single point to one or more points. But it's being touted by supporters as a way to link wireless metro-area networks (MANs) and 802.11 hotspots to the Internet. Among the key attributes of the fixed-point wireless standard are its long (20-kilometer) range, inherent quality-of-service features and ability to make connections without having a direct line of sight.
Proprietary wireless MANs serving this purpose have already started cropping up in China and elsewhere in Asia. Fujitsu and other like-minded chip makers hope to see wireless-systems companies adopt 802.16a, providing a high-volume market for standard devices. Fujitsu plans to have its chip ready early next year.
"What 802.16 allows us to do is consolidate under a common air interface, just as 802.11 [did]," said Aditya Agrawal, senior marketing manager at Fujitsu Microelectronics America Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.). "Similarly with .16, we hope to bring down the price point of fixed wireless access solutions."
Fujitsu is currently developing an 802.16a device that integrates both the physical and media-access control (MAC) layers. The chip will include an ARM9 processor and will be based on 0.18-micron design rules. Pricing has not been determined, though the final system price tag should not exceed $300, Agrawal said.
Fujitsu said it will work with multiple providers of RF front-end devices and will recommend those that are compatible with its device. Because of 802.16a's extended range, compliant systems should consume more power and require more advanced antennas than typical WLAN systems. Fujitsu will offer a reference design with component recommendations when its combination PHY/MAC chip is formally introduced, Agrawal said.
Fujitsu plans to make a presentation on 802.16a and discuss its product road map at the Broadband Wireless World Conference to be held in San Jose on April 10.
Whether the market will rally behind 802.16a is an open question. One possible hurdle is a proposal by a camp that would like to see the entrenched 802.11 standard evolve as an air interface for MANs. It is also possible that 802.16a will wind up being subsumed by 802.11 if the .11 standards group fails to come up with a workable quality-of-service scheme of its own. (See www.eet.com/story/OEG20030130S0055.)
Fujitsu, however, is trying to make the case for 802.16a as the right path for creating wireless MANs. The spec uses a 256-point orthogonal frequency-division multiplexed (OFDM) carrier technology, giving it greater range than wireless LANs, which are based on 64-point OFDM.
Another key difference is 802.16's use of time slots, allowing greater spectral efficiency for quality-of-service capabilities, Agrawal said.
"The .16 proponents realize that .11 is a LAN technology. If you have more users, for example, and are trying to transmit, then the packets collide and every one of them would have to back off. There's no preset scheme for quality of service," he said.
Moreover, 802.16a can operate in the same single-carrier OFDM mode as the analogous HiperMAN standard in Europe. Agrawal said there have been "liaison efforts" between those backing the IEEE version and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, which oversees HiperMAN. Asian OEMs are expected to adopt either, he added.