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Intel makes bets on WiMAX

Those who marvel at the phenomenal growth of the Internet to date ain't seen nothin' yet, according to Intel Corp.'s Sean Maloney. The EVP and general manager of Intel's communications group believes that another wave of users is coming -- about 5 billion of them -- and that those users will be drawn to the 'Net by broadband wireless technologies.

Speaking last week at the Wireless Communications Association's (WCA's) 10th annual technical symposium in San Jose, Calif., Maloney told attendees that Intel plans to work with the industry to drive down the cost and increase the availability of both 802.11-based wireless local-area networks (WLANs) and 802.16-based wireless metropolitan-area networks (WMANs), better known as WiMAX.

WiMAX technology connects Wi-Fi hotspots to the Internet and provides a wireless alternative for last-mile broadband connectivity to businesses and homes. Maloney sees the wireless service provider and telecommunication equipment industries "rallying around" WiMAX because it provides cheaper last-mile connectivity than digital subscriber lines and cable broadband. That lower cost means WiMAX can serve parts of the world where laying fiber is an expensive proposition -- Maloney cited San Francisco, where it costs about $300 per square foot, as an example. "WiMAX can be a big deal in the next five years," he said, "the way Wi-Fi has been over the last two years." WiMAX-certified systems will provide the building blocks to "truly usher in the broadband wireless revolution," he added.

Intel plans to deliver standards-based silicon for both WLAN networking and WMAN hardware, Maloney said. "We see a three-phased deployment of 802.16 technology that will begin with fixed outdoor antenna installations, quickly bringing wireless to emerging markets and speeding the installation of broadband services without the need to lay wire or cable," he said. "The technology will then rapidly progress to indoor antenna installations, broadening its appeal to carriers seeking simplified installation at user sites. Finally, in the third phase, WiMAX-certified hardware will be available in portable solutions for users who want to roam within or between service areas."

The 802.16 silicon will be certified by the WiMAX Forum and will be developed and deployed by a growing "ecosystem" of wireless equipment makers and service providers. The WiMAX Forum is a 68-member standards group that is promoting IEEE 802.16a as a common standard for carrier-class broadband wireless. The specification defines systems that deliver up to 74 Mbits per second of bandwidth over distances of up to 50km using spectrum bands ranging from 6 to 11 GHz. The Forum certifies the interoperability of broadband wireless access products based on the standard.

Intel's first WiMAX-certified silicon, scheduled to debut in the second half of this year, will be based on the 802.16d standard, Maloney said, which is designed to provide high-speed wireless connections in fixed-antenna installations. Intel is working with a number of telecom firms to develop and deploy this technology, he said, including Airspan Networks, Alvarion, Aperto Networks and Redline. Intel is also talking with Siemens Mobile and Proxim about collaborating on WiMAX, he said.

A week earlier, Intel announced its first 802.11b/g chipset, and began shipping the Intel Pro/Wireless 2000BG (formerly code-named Calexico 2), an all-CMOS, two-chip solution implemented on a mini-PCI card. The new chip will be a standard feature of future versions of Centrino notebooks, company reps said.

The three-day WCA expo was organized to highlight the latest wireless broadband technology.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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