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Cisco Investing In WiMax To Bring Broadband To Developing Areas

Company exec says the addition of mobile WiMax to its existing Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi mesh portfolio will help shape the future of high-speed broadband.

With Sprint forking out up to $5 billion for WiMax efforts, Cisco is the next big company investing in the technology in hopes of bringing high-speed broadband to developing areas, said a Cisco executive on Wednesday during a session at the Interop show in New York City.

"The issue often is still coverage. There are large parts of the U.S. where people can't get the bandwidth that they need. WiMax represents a huge opportunity to drive connectivity into areas where it's not available," said Lynn Lucas, director of Cisco's mobility solutions marketing, during the session.

Cisco earlier this week announced plans to acquire Navini Networks, a Texas-based provider of mobile WiMax 802.16e-2005 products, for $330 million. Navini specializes in integrating "smart beamforming" technologies with multi-input multi-output (MIMO) antennas -- a combination that can improve performance and range for WiMax-based services. Once the acquisition closes, Cisco will be able to enhance its IP Next Generation Network by allowing service providers to provide any service to any device over any network, according to the company.

Cisco has two initiatives, called "Country Transformation" and "Digital Inclusion," to bring high-speed wireless broadband to consumers and businesses in emerging countries. The networking provider's wireless portfolio of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi mesh, and now mobile WiMax, will help drive those initiatives.

WiMax isn't the only technology that will shape the future of wireless broadband, but it will be complementary to other technologies. AT&T and other carriers, for example, are spending billions of dollars to upgrade their infrastructure to next-generation technologies.

"When we merged Cingular and AT&T Wireless we had to focus on integrating existing networks. Now we're moving at lightning speed to build out our [third-generation] network. We're spending quite a bit of money acquiring additional spectrum and moving users off of legacy systems," said David Cohen, area VP of mobility applications at AT&T.

Wi-Fi is another key technology in the evolution of wireless broadband. Many cities are deploying municipal Wi-Fi networks in hopes of providing services to public safety, government workers, and residents. While coverage is not everywhere, combined with WiMax and other technologies, Wi-Fi will play a major role.

"WiMax in addition to Wi-Fi and proprietary platforms in the licensed and unlicensed spectrum will be successful. It's got to be a collection of technologies," said Jim Welch, VP of wireless broadband, government, and public safety at Motorola. He added, "it's going to take some experiments, but we're already seeing startups driving WiMax deployments. You'll see public safety and the government deploying their own networks and eventually they will come together."

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