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The Latest in WiMax Silicon

802.16-2004 — also known as WiMax — is almost ready for the actual prime-time. Not that the fixed wireless broadband technology has ever been out of the spotlight in the last 18 months. That won't change during the run-up to the release of products that are actually tested for interoperability, especially with chip vendors who want the market share that should come from the WiMax mindshare.

Sequans Communications, with its headquarters in Paris, has announced two WiMax System-on-Chip (SoC) products, one for base stations, another for subscriber stations. Along with the company's S-Cube software (for Sequans' Software Solution), the chips are the first in the WiMax line from the fabless semiconductor company.

A principal goal: making sure subscriber stations are customer-installable. The company believes that's a requirement for mass adoption.

Sequans’ vice president of marketing and business development, Bernard Aboussouan, says the company's SoCs have "more capability than plain vanilla 802.16-2004." A second version of the chip will heavily target the mobile space, specifically with the 802.16e spec that's coming for Mobile WiMax. Sequans counts Airspan among its customers for standard WiMax equipment, but Aboussouan says Sequans is already working with other customers to get WiMax chips embedded directly into laptops and even smaller devices.

That's not where Wavesat is going, though it wouldn't be hard. The company said this week its own WiMax Customer Premises Equipment (CPEs, aka subscriber stations) chip would be available on a miniPCI module. While this is a standard used for making additions to laptops all the time, these modules would target Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and Original Device Manufacturers (ODMs) making CPEs.

This move, says Vijay Dube, vice president of marketing and business development at Wavesat, will do more to drive up volume on WiMax products than anything else, as Asian companies will snap up the modules to build them into products, just like they did in the past with Wi-Fi.

"It simplifies the time to market for customers," says Dube. "It brings cost down for the overall solution." The company has six ODMs signed up to use the miniPCI module already.

The miniPCI module will run in the 3.5GHz radio frequency band. Wavesat is offering a development platform for the miniPCI module which is powered by the company's Evolutive WiMax DM256 chip.

While Wavesat isn't necessarily targeting laptop makers with this release, Dube says WiMax will "be in laptops before 802.16e for certain applications.... the difference is hand-off. Once you want to move around from one cell site to another, you need 16e. But with a campus area, like a university campus [with one base station], 802.16-2004 will still work."

Both companies have products in with the WiMax Forum for certification testing and expect to see a ramp-up for major product shipments late this year and on into 2006.