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Intel Advances WiMAX in China

After its famed ballyhoo with China over wireless standards, Intel has mustered two development deals to advance its position in broadband wireless technology.

In a statement Thursday, the Santa Clara, Calif.,-based chip making giant said it has signed a memoranda of understanding with the municipal governments in Dalian and Chengdu to install WiMAX (also known as 802.16a). The metro area technology is being touted as a wireless alternative for last-mile broadband connection for businesses and homes. Specific terms of the agreements were not disclosed.

Intel's aspirations for WiMAX are well documented, and executives like Intel senior fellow Kevin Kahn suggest that WiMAX is perfect for rural areas. The company is close to producing silicon with a range of up to 30 miles and the ability to transfer data, voice and video at speeds of up to 70 Mbps.

"Digital technology, the expansion of wireless networking and the convergence of computing and communications will continue to enhance the way business is transacted, allow access to new markets and boost commerce globally," John Antone, Intel vice president and the general manager of sales and marketing for Asia Pacific, said in a statement.

The agreement with Chinese officials is a clear sign that the country wants to put its past behind it. Late last year, wireless chipmakers like Intel and Broadcom had their backs against the wall, because China said it would require all foreign semiconductor manufacturers to use a wireless encryption plan known as the Wired Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure (WAPI). The little known scheme is incompatible with the open global wireless security standard (IEEE 802.11 and 802.11b) used by chipmakers and electronics manufacturers.

In April, officials in Beijing backed down and indefinitely suspended its deadline to impose a proprietary wireless LAN encryption scheme within its borders.

Dalian and Chengdu should be interesting deployments for Intel. Known for its industry, trade and finance, Dalian is a port city in China's northeast region, with a population of 5.9 million. Chengdu, the larger of the two cities, is the capital of Sichuan province and covers 12,390 square kilometers (7,698.78 square miles) with a population of more than 10 million. Not only is Chengdu a hub for the southwest region in the area of commerce and trade, but it also supports more than 20 universities with a strong R&D research facility community.

As a wireless technology, 802.16a is considered the next step beyond Wi-Fi, because it is optimized for broadband operation, fixed and mobile, in the wide area network. It already includes numerous advances that are slated for introduction into the 802.11 standard. Quality of service, enhanced security, higher data rates and mesh and smart antenna technology all allow better use of the spectrum.

A recent study by Visant Strategies entitled "802.16/WiMAX Technologies: World Market Forecasts 2003-2008," found WiMAX and Wi-Fi complementary, because the two technologies address different segments of the market and are optimized for different tasks -- local vs. metropolitan area networking. Last-mile access will be the first application for 802.16a, but mobility will follow via 802.16e.

Researchers involved in the study suggest WiMAX is considered a migration path to 4G, but more likely will be used by holders of Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) spectrum rather than mobile carriers.

802.16a is also expected to play a role in outdoor and private networks, the extension of hot spots and backhaul applications that lack line-of-sight.

The opportunity for 802.16a equipment is forecast to reach a value of approximately $1 billion in 2008, the study found, with growth accelerating late in the period.

"Under the current conditions, 802.16a could emulate 802.11's rise several years from now," said study author Andy Fuertes, Visant Strategies senior analyst. "Many chip and equipment vendors ignored the chance to get into the 802.11 market early and create market share due to market-size limitations created by high equipment costs, a much smaller potential audience and no need for all things Internet and intranet yet. WiMAX offers these technology companies a fresh start."