RealTime IT News

Intel Preps for WiMax Chips

By Eva Marer

Chip making giant Intel Wednesday said it would begin shipping silicon with the standard, known as 802.16a, or WiMAX by the second half of this year.

In a room full of eager broadband and networking professionals at the Wireless Communications Association (WCA) annual symposium in San Jose, the company said it expects service providers to deploy the standard 2005. So the announcement signals to product designers that they should sit down at their CAD stations and begin thinking about products to roll out next year.

Intel executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Communications Group Sean Maloney said the company's vision includes a three-stage deployment of WiMAX that would begin with fixed outdoor antenna installations to bring wireless to emerging markets and speed the installation of broadband services without the need to lay wire or cable.

"The technology will then rapidly progress to indoor antenna installations, broadening its appeal to carriers seeking simplified installation at user sites," Maloney said. "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."

Intel's Communications Group has been de-emphasizing products for Wi-Fi consumers and enterprises for several years in order to concentrate on core silicon for commercial routers and switches. Although Intel is a gorilla in the standards game, it's still too early to tell if products using its chips will be certified or even if WiMAX will enjoy the popularity of its cousin Wi-Fi . Some experts believe the enthusiasm is premature.

"The reality is that many telcos suffered a huge disappointment since the Internet crash when they were left with tens of thousands of unused wires," says Peter Kastner, research vice president with the Aberdeen Group, Inc., in Boston. "After all, WiMAX is just another carrier backhaul which needs to be monetized, and how anybody makes money with more bandwidth is a fair question."

Still, he says, many on Wall Street believe that telcos are girding up for new investments by next year and when they do invest, they'll be looking at the newest and most effective technologies. "WiMAX has a chance to be on that dance card."

Intel said its initial WiMAX-certified silicon would be based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.16d standard, which is expected to be approved later this year. The original standard specified the WirelessMAN-SC air interface, a single-carrier (SC) modulation scheme designed to operate in the 10-66 GHz spectrums. That spectrum supports continuously varying traffic levels at many licensed frequencies (including 10.5, 25, 26, 31, 38 and 39 GHz) for two-way communications.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based firm is also banking that the latest standard will appeal to the next wave of users, especially in emerging markets like China, India and Latin America, where the cost of building new high-speed fiber optic networks is prohibitively high. Intel said its new wireless technology could provide network access data, voice and video at speeds of up to 70 Mbps (compared to 11 mps for 802.1b) at a range of 30 miles.

To that end, the No. 1 chipmaker announced that several large foreign telecommunications carriers -- including BT (United Kingdom), Iberbanda (Spain), MVS Net (Mexico), Neotec (Brazil), PCCW (Hong Kong), Reliance Infocomm (India) and UK Broadband (United Kingdom) -- are already assessing WiMAX technology for trials and implementation in their home markets.

"These carriers represent millions of customers around the world and show the technology's broad appeal," said Maloney.

The largest economic gains may be overseas, but the technology could drive down costs stateside too by connecting 802.11 hotspots to the Internet and providing a wireless alternative for "last-mile" broadband connectivity to businesses, homes, even beaches.

"Some folks have come up with proprietary solutions, but they're not deployed in standard fashion," Intel spokesperson Daniel Francisco told internetnews.com. "Certified silicon would make sense on a volume scale."

Intel has announced its partnership with domestic telecommunications companies, including Airspan Networks, Alvarion, Aperto Networks and Redline, to develop and deploy WiMAX-certified 802.16 equipment based on Intel silicon. Siemens Mobile and Proxim are also in separate discussions with Intel.

"The wireless service provider and telecommunication equipment industries are rallying around WiMAX technology because of its tremendous cost advantages to provide last-mile connectivity to large parts of the world that are too expensive to serve with wired technologies," said Maloney. "The new technology will usher in a broadband wireless revolution."