Looking at presentations from a recent LTE meeting I found it quite interesting at how many of them mention WiMAX 802.16m. I haven't heard much about 802.16m yet but since they all refer to it I thought it might be time to find out a bit more about it.
It seems to be a bit early for that search however. First announced in early 2007 the only facts so far known about 802.16m is that the IEEE would like to create a standard as much backwards compatible as possible to the current version of the WiMAX (802.16e or 820.16-2005) but with peak data rates of up to 1 GBit/s (that's around 1.000 MBit/s).
Compared to current systems deployed in live networks today such as HSDPA with a theoretical top speed of 14 MBit/s and about 2 MBit/s with a Cat-6 HSDPA mobile today in live networks, these numbers are staggeringly impressive. So how can such data rates be achieved? As not much is known so far, let's speculate a bit.
Between today and WiMAX II, there's systems such as WiMAX and LTE which promise faster data rates than those available today by mainly doing the following:
- Increase the channel bandwidth: HSDPA uses a 5 MHz channel today. WiMAX and LTE have flexible channel bandwidths from 1.25 to 20 MHz (Note: The fastest WiMAX profile currently only uses a 10 MHz channel today for the simple reason that 20 MHz of spectrum is hard to come by). So by using a channel that is four times as broad as today, data rates can be increased four times.
- Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MIMO): Here, multiple antennas at both the transmitting and receiving end are used to send independent data streams over each antenna. This is possible as signals bounce of buildings, trees and other obstacles and thus form independent data paths. Both LTE and WiMAX currently foresee 2 transmitting and 2 receiving antennas (2x2 Mimo). In the best case this doubles data rates.
- Higher Order Modulation: While HSDPA uses 16QAM modulation that packs 4 bits into a single transmission step, WiMAX and LTE will use 64QAM modulation under ideal transmission conditions which packs 6 bits into a single transmission step.
By using the techniques above, LTE and WIMAX will be able to increase today's 2 MBit/s to about 20-25 MBit/s. That's still far away from the envisaged 1.000 GBit/s. To see how to get there let's take a look at what NTT DoCoMo is doing in their research labs, as they have already achieved 5 GBit/s on the air interface and have been a bit more open at what they are doing (see here and especially here):
- Again increase of the channel bandwidth: They use a 100 MHz channel for their system. That's 4 times wider than the biggest channel bandwidth foreseen for LTE and 20 times wider than used for today's HSDPA. Note that in practice it might be quite difficult to find such large channels in the already congested radio bands.
- 12x12 MIMO: Instead of 2 transmit and receive antennas, DoCoMo uses 12 for their experiments. Current designers of mobile devices already have a lot of trouble finding space for 2 antennas so a 12x12 system should be a bit tricky to put into small devices.
- A new modulation scheme: VSF spread OFDM. This one's a bit mind bogelling using CDMA and OFDM in combination. Wikipedia contains a description of something called VSF-OFCDM which might be a close brother.
A four times wider bandwidth with six times the number of antennas results in a speed increase factor of 24. So multiplying 25 MBit/s * 24 results in 600 MBit/s or 0.6 GBit/s. That's still a factor of 8 away from what DoCoMo has said they have achieved, so I wonder where that discrepancy comes from!? I guess only time will tell.
For the moment, the wireless world's pretty much occupied with making LTE and WiMAX a reality. Pushing beyond that is not going to be an easy thing to do in the real world as bands that allow a single carrier of 100 MHz will be even harder to find than for the 20 MHz envisaged for LTE. Also, cramming more than 2 antennas into a small device will also be a formidable challenge.
More about 4G, LTE and WiMAX can be found here.