WiMAX is a wireless broadband solution that offers a rich set of features with a lot of flexibility in terms of deployment options and potential service offerings. Some of the more salient features that deserve highlighting are as follows:

OFDM-based physical layer:

The WiMAX physical layer (PHY) is based on orthogonal frequency division multiplexing, a scheme that offers good resistance to multipath, and allows WiMAX to operate in NLOS conditions. OFDM is now widely recognized as the method of choice for mitigating multipath for broadband wireless. Chapter 4 provides a detailed overview of OFDM.

Very high peak data rates:

 WiMAX is capable of supporting very high peak data rates. In fact, the peak PHY data rate can be as high as 74Mbps when operating using a 20MHz2 wide spectrum. More typically, using a 10MHz spectrum operating using TDD scheme with a 3:1 downlink-to-uplink ratio, the peak PHY data rate is about 25Mbps and 6.7Mbps for the downlink and the uplink, respectively. These peak PHY data rates are achieved when using 64 QAM modulations with rate 5/6 error-correction coding. Under very good signal conditions, even higher peak rates may be achieved using multiple antennas and spatial multiplexing.

Scalable bandwidth and data rate support:

WiMAX has a scalable physical-layer architecture that allows for the data rate to scale easily with available channel bandwidth. This scalability is supported in the OFDMA mode, where the FFT (fast fourier transform) size may be scaled based on the available channel bandwidth. For example, a WiMAX system may use 128-, 512-, or 1,048-bit FFTs based on whether the channel bandwidth is 1.25MHz, 5MHz, or 10MHz, respectively. This scaling may be done dynamically to support user roaming across different networks that may have different bandwidth allocations.

Adaptive modulation and coding (AMC):

 WiMAX supports a number of modulation and forward error correction (FEC) coding schemes and allows the scheme to be changed on a per user and per frame basis, based on channel conditions. AMC is an effective mechanism to maximize throughput in a time-varying channel.

The adaptation algorithm typically calls for the use of the highest modulation and coding scheme that can be supported by the signal-to-noise and interference ratio at the receiver such that each user is provided with the highest possible data rate that can be supported in their respective links.

Link-layer retransmissions:

For connections that require enhanced reliability, WiMAX supports automatic retransmission requests (ARQ) at the link layer. ARQ-enabled connections require each transmitted packet to be acknowledged by the receiver; unacknowledged packets are assumed to be lost and are retransmitted. WiMAX also optionally supports hybrid-ARQ, which is an effective hybrid between FEC and ARQ.

Support for TDD and FDD:

IEEE 802.16-2004 and IEEE 802.16e-2005 supports both time division duplexing and frequency division duplexing, as well as a half-duplex FDD, which allows for a low-cost system implementation.

TDD is favored by a majority of implementations because of its advantages:

  1. flexibility in choosing uplink-to-downlink data rate ratios,
  2. ability to exploit channel reciprocity,
  3. ability to implement in nonpaired spectrum,
  4. less complex transceiver design.

All the initial WiMAX profiles are based on TDD, except for two fixed WiMAX profiles in 3.5GHz.