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What is WirelessMAN®?

Robert Grimmick
Robert Grimmick

WirelessMAN® is a family of wireless networking standards created by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The standards, officially known as IEEE 802.16, complement other wireless technologies like Wi-Fi®. The 802.16 group of standards are meant for use in large, city-sized wireless networks that can deliver broadband Internet access and compete against wired technologies like Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and cable modems. The WirelessMAN® standards form the basis for WiMAX® and several other wireless broadband technologies.

The organization which created the 802.16 standard, the IEEE, was also responsible for ratifying the popular Bluetooth® and Wi-Fi® wireless standards. Each of these standards enables wireless networks to be built on different scales. Bluetooth®, for example, allows very short-range personal area networks (PANs). Wi-Fi® popularized whole-house wireless Local Area Networks (LANs), and WirelessMAN® is designed for larger Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) meant to cover entire cities or geographical areas. In many cases, these different types of networks can be complementary. A LAN using Wi-Fi®, for example, could be connected to the Internet through a MAN using 802.16.

Woman doing a handstand with a computer
Woman doing a handstand with a computer

Wireless networks built with WirelessMAN® technology use what is known as a point to multipoint setup. This means that a single base station provides wireless coverage to multiple subscriber stations in various locations. The maximum distance for this type of network is about 30 miles (48 km); over a thousand subscribers can be supported with one base station. Each subscriber station can serve a building or home, and can be used in place of wired Internet connections like DSL and cable.

Different subsets of 802.16 provide wireless broadband functionality at different radio frequencies. Systems using higher frequencies, specifically 10-66 gigahertz (GHz), require a clear line-of-sight between base station and subscriber stations. An amendment to the original 802.16 standard, 802.16a, added support for lower frequencies and enabled the technology to be used in situations where line-of-sight was unavailable.

Other subsets of 802.16 have been created to add new functionality or address issues related to the use of the technology. Released in 2005, 802.16e provided support for mobile subscriber stations, ultimately allowing the technology to be used for a mobile phone, laptop, or other portable device. Another subset aims to deal with the problems of many different technologies, including WirelessMAN®, operating on the same radio frequencies. The IEEE continues to study other issues related to 802.16; it is likely there will be further revisions of these standards in the future.

In the U.S. and some other countries, 802.16 standards have been used as the basis for WiMAX® wireless broadband service. American cellular service providers began building networks based on the 802.16e standard in the late 2000s, branding it as a “4G” technology. The European telecommunications industry has produced an 802.16-based technology called HiperMAN, while South Korean companies promoted a similar technology called WiBro, which unofficially stands for Wireless Broadband.

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