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The WiMAX Forum said Monday that its interoperability tests for the new standard will take place in mid-2005, consistent with its original timetable.

The WiMAX Forum selected Cetecom Spain as its official certification laboratory, which will begin interoperability trials in July.

Reports surfaced last week that the WiMAX forum was late in delivering interoperability tests or “plugfests”, forcing products based on the new standard out until 2006. That date is still the most likely target, although a WiMAX Forum representative said the organization’s plans remained unchanged.

“First of all, the discussion last week came as a complete surprise to us,” said Mohammad Shakouri, vice president of marketing for the Forum and also a member of its board of directors. “We were working toward 2005 as our target, maybe June or July. We’ve bee working for the last couple of weeks on this announcement, about our lab and our timeline.”

Shakouri said a review in mid-2004, as well as timetables constructed in 2003 and 2004, led the Forum to conclude that the “hope” would be to begin testing in early 2005, when the IEE 802.16e standard is expected to be ratified.

In any event, the rollout of the WiMAX technology will likely be a three-part affair. The IEEE 802.16a WiMAX specification, approved in 2001, calls for fixed broadband access via an outdoor antenna priced at about $400 or so for early adopters. The 802.16-2004 specification, approved last year, allows for cheaper customer-premise equipment (CPE) inside the home, which could replace a cable or DSL modem. That equipment, which the Cetecom Spain laboratory will test, is considered the “sweet spot” for the technology.

The 802.16e specification, which will allow mobile WiMAX to be built into notebooks in other devices, is expected to be approved this summer, followed by product samples, certification, and then a volume rollout sometime thereafter.

The Forum’s tentative timetable calls for mobile WiMAX trials to begin in the second half of 2006, Shakouri said. Separate interoperability trials will be needed, however, perhaps as long as nine months, he said.

The motivation behind interoperability testing is to provide enough options, in terms of equipment, that network operators will see the value of WiMAX and sign on. “If we deploy as much as possible nobody will lose,” Shakouri said.