Proxim Announces WiMax Plans

Proxim said today that it will be working with chipmaker Intel to make WiMax/802.16 products in the future for enterprise and broadband provider use.

The company will be making both base stations (that would reside in a central location) and subscriber units (that would reside with the end-user). The hardware will use Intel’s WiMax silicon when it becomes available and support “Rev D” of the 802.16 specification, which covers long-distance fixed wireless connections, but not mobility. Rev D incorporates the currently IEEE ratified 802.16a specification; that spec will eventually be called 802.16-2004. Proxim expects to have such products available for testing and sale in early 2005; they will sell under the name Tsunami MP.16.

In later phases the companies will add mobility with the forthcoming 802.16e specification. It will allow wireless broadband in moving vehicles. These products will ship in late 2005.

Intel will be licensing Proxim’s software for mobility applications for use in future WiMax products. According to Jeff Orr, senior product marketing manager at Proxim, this will lead to Intel channel ODM customers being introduced to Proxim for possible future partnerships.

Proxim will make reference designs for WiMax customer premises equipment (CPE) makers that can be used as a basis for new subscriber unit products for both 802.16 Rev D and .16a, as well as for a future 802.16e base station.

Both Intel and Proxim are founding members of the WiMax Forum, which is roughly analogous to the Wi-Fi Alliance that covers 802.11, in that it will (eventually) provide “WiMax Certified” product testing for interoperability. That won’t begin until sometime late this year, assuming WiMax equipment becomes available to form a test bed. Various companies, including Wi-LAN and Fujitsu Microelectronics, are in the running to be first out with equipment. The race is on to be first, as the WiMax market is expected to be lucrative. A study from Visant Strategies recently said the market for 802.16/WiMax could reach $1 billion US by 2008. WiMax/802.16 is also known (less and less frequently) as WirelessMAN (Metropolitan Area Network).

“Proxim as a single company, even Intel as a single company, can’t reach all of the market segments out there,” says Orr. “This deal is about a faster rate of adoption.”

Proxim is no stranger to long-distance wireless. The company’s Tsunami MP.11 line of products has used souped-up versions of 802.11 to let providers achieve long-distance, last-mile, point-to-multipoint connections. It also has a proprietary line called MP used for point-to-point connections in enterprise campuses.

In lieu of having WiMax products for the moment, Proxim has released a software upgrade to the Tsunami MP.11 family today. One aspect of the upgrade immediately takes on the mobility promise of 802.16e: Release 2.0 introduces a roaming feature to the radios of the MP.11 Subscriber Units. They can be placed on moving vehicles and roam seamlessly across multiple Tsunami Base Stations.

Orr says this mobility support will provide the proof that “this is what the market wants… if they wait [for WiMax], it suggests there’s currently no market need for mobility.” He sees this functionality taking off for markets like first responders and the transportation industry. Proxim has done trials with the units supporting high speed Internet connections on trains traveling at 120 miles per hour.

The 2.0 update also increase subscriber density so Base Stations can now handle 250 connections (up from 100), provides new antenna alignment LED indicators to facilitate easier installation, installs DHCP and NAPT support in Subscriber Units, allows for bandwidth control, and brings the units support for the 5.8GHz frequency band now available in the United Kingdom. These upgrades will reduce capital expenditures for service providers by 60%, according to the company.

Tsunami MP.11 products are available that utilize either the 2.4 or 5GHz spectrum, the license exempt areas of radio frequency spectrum used by 802.11b/g and 802.11a, respectively. The Tsunami software upgrades are free to existing customers and require no end user intervention; the Subscriber Units are upgraded over the air by the service provider. MP.11 Residential Subscriber Units cost $395 (model 2411, uses 802.11b/g) or $695 (model 5054, uses 802.11a).

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