WiMAX: Don't forget about interoperability

We learned some hard lessons about Wi-Fi device incompatibility. Let's not make the same mistake with WiMAX.

Shawn Morton's post about 4G networks convinced me that it is time. Time for what you say? It's time to start making sure we don't repeat the same mistakes we did when 802.11 equipment first came out. Remember trying to get devices from two different vendors to play nice together? I sure do. The memories aren't fond ones either.

Wi-Fi Alliance

Fortunately, in 1999 the Wi-Fi Alliance was formed by the following six companies: 3Com, Aironet, Intersil, Lucent Technologies, Nokia, and Symbol. The alliance's purpose is clearly defined in the mission statement:

  • Deliver the best user experience by certifying products enabled with Wi-Fi technology.
  • Grow the Wi-Fi market across market segments and geographies, on a variety of devices.
  • Develop market-enabling programs.
  • Support industry-agreed standards and specifications.

A year later, Wi-Fi Certified interoperability testing of 802.11b devices began and the alliance's membership grew to 36 companies. Today, there are over 5000 Wi-Fi Certified devices and compatibility is no longer an issue. It is a tribute to the foresight and diligence of all those involved.

Back to the present

We are on the brink of another wireless revolution, one that will forever change how we view Internet accessibility. Everywhere high-speed access will be the norm. Like other disruptive technologies, varied opinions on how to do that abound. Hopefully agreements will be reached. So we don't repeat previous mistakes.

To that end, an organization called WiMAX Forum has emerged and their mission statement has a familiar ring to it:

"The WiMAX Forum is the worldwide consortium focused on global adoption of WiMAX and chartered to establish certification processes that achieve interoperability, publish technical specifications based on recognized standards, promote the technology and pursue a favorable regulatory environment."


In order to obtain the "WiMAX Forum Certified" designation, devices must pass the following tests:

  • Mobile Test Suite
  • Mobile Radio Conformance Tests
  • Mobile Interoperability Test
  • Radio Requirements Test
  • Radiated Performance Test
  • Network Conformance Testing
  • Infrastructure Inter-Operator Testing

The above tests were derived from the 802.16 standard. I asked an engineer friend of mine about the tests. He mentioned that the Mobile Interoperability Test interested him the most. If I understand correctly, it's where mobile devices are tested in how they react to different networks.


Looking at the WiMAX deployment map , you can determine if there is a working WiMAX network near you. One thing I noticed from the map is Europe is well ahead of United States.

Check the list

The important thing is if you have a need for a WiMAX device, make sure your choice is certified. The forum has a listing of all certified devices. Clicking on the individual device will bring you to a new page that provides more detailed information.

Final thoughts

WiMAX as a technology is going to be more ubiquitous than Wi-Fi. Potentially, WiMAX could replace Wi-Fi and possibly 3G. That ups the ante on reliability and compatibility, making the WiMAX Forum an important facilitator.