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6/30/2006
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In Depth: Intel's Chip Plans Give WiMax A Mighty Push Forward

Intel's influence won't be enough, though, to spur a widespread U.S. rollout or major business uptake.

We all want the same thing when it comes to a wireless Internet connection: coverage everywhere, superfast speeds, not too pricey.

What we don't know is when we're going to get it. On that front, Intel last week pushed the zoom-ahead button, disclosing plans to deliver by year's end a new chipset called Rosedale 2 that should make it easier to access WiMax from mobile computers. By early next year, Intel predicts some PC makers will be building those chips into laptops, and that may be the jump start the industry needs. Think of the role having Intel's Wi-Fi-friendly Centrino chips in so many laptops played in the proliferation of hot-spots in offices, homes, and public places the past few years.

Clear Signal For WiMax

Clear Signal For WiMax
Intel thinks WiMax can pick up where Wi-Fi leaves off. It promises speeds that outgun cable modems and spans distances of several miles from a base station. The implications for business computing could be far reaching. WiMax could allow new competitors into the Internet access market, letting businesses put a fixed WiMax receiver on their buildings as the big pipe for Internet access service, which they then route to employees using existing Ethernet networks.

WiMax also presents a new option for delivering broadband to remote offices, as telecommunications companies fill gaps in coverage where their DSL or other broadband doesn't reach. Those things are happening on a very limited scale in the United States, with larger cities such as Seattle and Honolulu awaiting implementations of WiMax-related technology soon (see story, "WiMax's Bottom Line"). Outside the United States, the uptake is faster, with several large-scale deployments under way in major cities.

If WiMax becomes a feasible channel to get fast Internet access across wide areas, it would create a take-it-with-you Internet that would spark new business uses and even new devices. Today, mobile Internet access depends on third-generation cellular technology that, though improving, isn't particularly fast or cheap.

Intel alone isn't powerful enough to make WiMax succeed, and there are critical differences that'll make this a tougher slog than Wi-Fi. The need for scarce licensed spectrum is the biggest. Also, most established U.S. telecom companies are lukewarm about WiMax, though BellSouth last week expressed fresh interest in testing it. Countries without established telecom infrastructures are getting a head start on the United States in their use of WiMax. But if Intel can get WiMax-ready chips built into laptops, the potential for success across markets shoots up. "As a foundation inside the company right now, the mobile Internet is mobile WiMax," says Scott Richardson, VP and general manager of Intel's service provider business group.

Chicken-And-Egg Problem

WiMax comes in two flavors: fixed, based on the 802.16d standard ratified in mid-2004 that, while wireless, doesn't allow for much movement away from the wireless router that receives the signal; and mobile, or 802.16e, which is meant to compete alongside 3G cellular technologies for data transmission, letting people communicate while walking or riding in cars.

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