The World Loves Wi-Fi and WiMAX

Wi-Fi and WiMAX are hot buzz words in wireless security technology. Integrators and dealers know the market is in love with mobile and remote access to security systems. For many, the way to provide that access is via Wi-Fi or WiMAX.

Thanks to its popularity in the consumer market, everyone who is technology-savvy knows the term Wi-Fi. Smart integrators and manufacturers are trumpeting their Wi-Fi credentials and promoting it as a way to monitor video systems or check at-home security settings from remote locations.

Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) is another hot mobility protocol. It provides fixed and mobile Internet access. It is an IP-based, wireless broadband access technology that provides performance similar to 802.11/Wi-Fi networks with the coverage and quality of service (QOS) of cellular networks. A new, improved WiMAX-2 provides even higher speeds and better data rates.

"The key is higher data rates and the ability to monitor the technology," said Dr. Mohammad Shakouri, vice president of the WiMAX Forum, Beaverton, Ore. "We will see a more integrated, distributed model for these technologies. Both inside and outside the building we will see Wi-Fi, ZigBee, fiber and WiMAX integrated."

WiFi and WiMAX hit their stride

When over 1,000 Americans were asked by Wakefield Research, Washington, D.C., what the best sign is that a new technology item is cutting edge, the two top answers (each with about 29 percent response) were: "It has Wi-Fi" and "It doesn't have wires." The survey, done in December 2010, showed how technology oriented Americans have become. More respondents said they check their e-mail before bed than kiss their spouse/significant others goodnight.

Security companies have sensed the public's affinity with Wi-Fi and wireless devices and many are hopping onboard. The movers and shakers in the business all belong to the Wi-Fi Alliance, Austin, Texas (previously known as the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance), a non-profit organization formed in 1999 to certify interoperability of Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11) products and to promote Wi-Fi as the global wireless LAN standard across all market segments, including security.

As part of its role, the Wi-Fi Alliance defined a test suite that defines how member products are tested to certify that they are interoperable with other vendor products. When a product successfully passes the test, the company will be granted the Wi-Fi seal of interoperability and may display the Wi-Fi logo on that product and its corresponding collateral material. Consumers are assured that any product bearing the Wi-Fi logo will work with other Wi-Fi products.

Many integrators are Cisco shops, so they are familiar with the basic wireless technology behind the Wi-Fi boom. It plays right into one of the hottest trends in security: allowing the customer to view video.

Wi-Fi will fill a niche in the video market, according to Vince Vittore, principal analyst with Yankee Group, Boston.

"It makes perfect sense if you are a provider who wants to reach that fourth or fifth TV without having to drill through walls," he said. "Wi-Fi is a nice complement to what is out there."

"I know Verizon is using Z-Wave in their monitoring package that they launched at CES," said Vittore. He said that seemed to surprise some of the home networking companies he talked to at the show, especially the chip providers who did not expect a major US-based firm to use Z-Wave in a major offering.

Security remains a concern with Wi-Fi. About 17 percent of those responding to the Wakefield Research questions admitted that, in the past year they had tried to get on a Wi-Fi network that was not theirs-such as a neighbor's-in an attempt to save money.

Still, the technology is popular. "There are a lot of Wi-Fi cameras available and some Wi-Fi set-top boxes that are selling into the market," Vittore said. Among several products Wi-Fi certified are the Cisco Wireless-N Internet Home Monitoring camera; the Edimax IC-3030 and Edimax IC-7010PTn; and PCI's CS-WMV04N, CS-W05NM and CS-W05N units.

WiMAX may be a bit longer coming to the market and will have a tough row to hoe in the video segment. Vittore noted the huge capacity demands of video. "Video sucks up so much bandwidth," he added.

Yet, Shakouri acknowledged the challenge. "We need to handle higher data rates and leverage multiple technologies," he said. He noted the demand from utility companies seeking to safeguard and monitor the Smart Grid and for public safety departments to be able to obtain and secure their security data. It is not good if the bad guys can listen in on transmissions. The WiMAX Forum concentrated first on security of the transmissions. When WiMAX-3 comes out, Shakouri said, it will likely provide gigabit coverage. "100 MB will not be enough," he said. "And I'm 100 percent sure we will see wider channels-in the 100 MHz range."

The big advantage of WiMAX is the distances it covers. WiMAX can provide broadband wireless access up to 30 miles for fixed stations and three to 10 miles for mobile stations. That is incrementally better than Wi-Fi's wireless local area network standard which stretches only to 300 feet. With WiMAX, the issue of interference is lessened since it offers bandwidth in the licensed spectrum.

With WiMAX-2, the technology can provide higher system capacity with a peak rate of 300 Mbps and lower latency. Under WiMAX-2, the 802.16m standard will meet the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) requirements for 4G or "IMT-Advanced."

Companies like Alvarion, Beceem, GCT Semiconductor, Intel, Motorola, Samsung, Sequans, XRONet and ZTE as well as the Taiwanese Research Organization, Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), worked with the WiMAX Forum to accelerate the implementation of interoperable system profiles for WiMAX-2.

With 802.16m approved as a standard, Shakouri expects companies to roll out product at the end of this year or early in 2012. "Timing depends on the vendors," he said.

North American companies have been slow to embrace WiMAX, however. The standard enjoys much higher adoption rates in Asia, Europe and Africa than it does in the United States or Canada.

The newer iterations of WiMAX may answer that challenge. Whether for home security or monitoring campus or area-wide video surveillance, Shakouri maintains that video is one of the areas where WiMAX offers significant advantages. It has reach, security and bandwidth, he said. But, he added, the ultimate solution will involve multiple technologies.

"At the end of the day, Wi-Fi or ZigBee will act in the local area and WiMAX will provide the wide-area coverage. The key is integrating multiple technologies that will give an end-to-end solution."
 

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