Wavesat’s Mobile Strategy

In anticipation of the 3GSM World Congress conference in Barcelona, Spain this month, Wavesat this week announced its future strategy for 802.16e-2005, the mobile WiMax standard which many other vendors have already embraced.

“We’ve been quiet on this to protect our fixed WiMax developments and deployment of equipment,” says Rainer Ullmann, product line manager at Wavesat. “Now is a good time to start showing that we’re playing in this space.”

Why so late to the party, compared to some other chipmakers? Wavesat doesn’t think that 16e deployments will really make a big splash in 2007. They say the IEEE is still making technical changes to the spec, and that anyone with a product line out this soon is more proprietary in nature than WiMax-certifiable (by the WiMax Forum).

The Wavesat 16e chips will be branded as UMobile and will have full support for “Wave 2” of the Mobile WiMax specification. Ullmann says the current Wave 1 products will have inferior performance to Wave 2, which could have certification testing this year (but probably in 2008). “After that, you have more acceptance on the market,” says Ullmann. “We’re not there yet. That’s one reason why we chose not to be first out with chips. We want to be there with the right time and right market.” He expect the first UMobile chips, codenamed Panther, to ship in the fourth quarter of 2007.

Specs for Panther include a programmable PHY and MAC, smart antenna support for features like 2×2 MIMO (multiple in, multiple out), 150mW low power receive mode, multiple mode support (including even legacy 802.11a and 11g), all in a 9×9-millimeter package that requires no external memory.

South Korea’s SK Telecom, famed for having one of the world’s first mobile WiMax launches (under the name WiBro), is an investor in Wavesat, and will be looking to use the UMobile chips. Wavesat is counting on its programmability to let it support standard WiMax, Korea’s WiBro, and more. “You can use one chip to do development for all sorts of applications around the world,” says Ullmann.

Wavesat will provide complete reference designs for products like USB-based wireless modem dongles and dual-mode mobile phones that would build in 16e using Panther.

“We don’t think there will be worldwide coverage with WiMax base stations overnight,” says Ullmann. “We think, in the beginning, WiMax will be in certain hotzones.”

Following 3GSM, Wavesat plans to have Panther tested in the next WiMax plugfest, also in Spain in February, with more tests to follow through the year before sampling to customers begins in August.

This may put it well behind some competitors, but Wavesat says that’s in their favor.

“Our competitors have come out too early to market,” says Vijay Dube, Wavesat’s vice president of marketing.

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