RealTime IT News

Intel, Cellular Pioneer Target WiMAX

SAN FRANCISCO -- Intel is advancing its wireless strategy, thanks to an investment partnership with cellular pioneer Craig McCaw's Clearwire.

The chipmaking giant said it will partner with Clearwire, a Kirkland, Wash.-based wireless broadband services company, to advance the WiMAX standard (broadly known as 802.16a) and to support the upcoming IEEE 802.16e version. The metro area technology is being touted as a wireless alternative for last-mile broadband connection for businesses and homes.

Clearwire's idea is simple: A tower transmits radio signals from a base site to a small, wireless modem, the size of a paperback book, which easily connects a user's computer to the Internet. Customers can receive access with minimal setup or support.

McCaw is the founder of one of the country's first cellular networks, which he later sold to AT&T for $11.5 billion, and a current investor in Nextel. He bought into a non-line-of-sight (NLOS) broadband plug-and-play hardware company last summer, called NextNet.

In March, his investment company, Eagle River, bought Clearwire Holding Company, which has spectrum rights in a number of markets around the country.

Sean Maloney, Intel executive vice president, said the company will spend an undisclosed amount of its $150 million wireless Intel Capital fund to foster the development and strategically place its next-generation Intel chips in devices made by Clearwire's NextNet Wireless subsidiary.

"We are [heading] toward merging into that standard where lots of devices are produced," Maloney said during a press conference at the CTIA Wireless show here. "The difference between WiMAX and Wi-Fi is that the WiMAX community so far has been a healthy ecosystem."

McCaw said Intel's investment and its development work with Clearwire since last summer will help him spin off NextNet as a separate company as the WiMAX deployments ramp up.

"We know the cellular market very well and how 3G works," McCaw said. "Our partnership will show a definite cost advantage, since this is designed from the bottom up."

But beyond their altruistic build-out of wireless IP in rural areas, analysts like Gerry Purdy, a principal analyst with MobileTrax, argue that Intel and Clearwire are looking to prevent what happened in the wired world from happening in the wireless one.

"Intel and McCaw's company are not competing with the larger VoIP players ... yet," Purdy told internetnews.com. "But what you have is the two companies focusing on the infrastructure first and then working into the various contracts in metro areas."

Purdy's suggestion is the VoIP or Internet telephony players like Vonage and Skype could become a potential threat of Voice over Wireless IP. The wireline industry has been slowly losing market share to VoIP in the last few quarters, as customers begin seeing the cost benefits. Intel and Clearwire are obviously aware of that power.

Intel's aspirations for WiMAX are well documented. The company envisions WiMAX for rural areas and developing nations. It has said it is producing WiMAX-enabled 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. The technology, codenamed "Rosedale," is based on the IEEE 802.16-2004 standard (previously known as IEEE 802.16REVd). The technology, expected next year, is Intel's first "system-on-a-chip" for WiMAX.

Now, using NextNet technology based on Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing, Intel and McCaw are gearing up for a wider launch.

NextNet's Expedience system is spreading around Asia, Africa, North America, Latin America and Mexico. NextNet is the exclusive NLOS plug-and-play system supplier for MVS Comunicaciones, Mexico's largest MMDS carrier, with licensed spectrum covering 67 million potential subscribers. NextNet is also the exclusive NLOS plug-and-play system supplier for the Canadian joint venture of Inukshuk, Allstream, and NR Communications, which holds licensed spectrum covering 30 million Canadians.

In the United States, NextNet is available in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina and Ohio.