Mobile broadband wireless access (MBWA) for computers, personal digital assistants and other battery-powered devices is to take a major step forward. The next two years will see a standard developed at the IEEE to create an air-interface that delivers service levels to mobile users traveling at speed as great as 250 km/hr that are comparable to wired broadband systems, such as cable and DSL connections.

The standard, IEEE 802.20™, "Standard Air Interface for Mobile Broadband Wireless Access Systems Supporting Vehicular Mobility-physical and Media Access Control Layer Specification," will seek to boost real-time data transmission rates in wireless metropolitan area networks from the dial-up rates of today's cellular phones to a broadband experience of 1 Mbps or more. By providing ubiquitous mobile broadband networking based on cell ranges of up to 15 km or more, the standard will remove barriers for mobile interactive voice, video and data services.

IEEE P802.20 will address MBWA in licensed bands below 3.5 GHz. It will optimize airwave use for mobility and allow for many more simultaneous users than existing mobile systems now accommodate. IEEE plans to have the standard in place by the end of 2004. "Our goal is to bring a true broadband experience to wireless users," says Mark Klerer, 802.20 working group chair and executive director of standards at Flarion Technologies. "In so doing, we hope to make MBWA a viable option for transferring large amounts of data in real time via the Internet, intranets and enterprise systems to mobile users within metropolitan area networks. The standard will target sustained spectral efficiencies of more than 1 bit/second/ Hz/cell, which is more than double that of today's systems. It will promote fully QoS-enabled airlinks having high spectral efficiency and low latency, giving users a high speed wireless data experience equivalent in quality to wired links."

The standard will provide for an efficient packet-based air interface with high speed downlink and uplink capabilities. In providing for low latency, it will enable telephony using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and activities needing rapid network response times, such as on-line gaming and financial transactions. The standard also will support other IP-centric applications, so the many native IP applications can be used without alterations. Individuals with expertise in mobile wireless systems, air interfaces and mobility are invited to join the IEEE 802.20 working group. The group will hold a meeting at the IEEE 802 plenary meeting in Dallas, TX, on March 10 to 13, 2003. For more information on IEEE 802.20, visit:

This project is sponsored by the Working Group on Mobile Broadband Wireless Access of the LAN/MAN Standards Committee in the IEEE Computer Society.