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7/31/2007
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Intel Sees 2008 As Breakout Year For WiMax

Intel's carrier partners Sprint Nextel and Clearwire plan to offer the technology as a wireless broadband alternative to the 3G cellular networks.

Intel and its partners are preparing to make a major push in 2008 for WiMax in the United States, hoping to eventually make the wireless broadband technology as popular as Wi-Fi is today.

Next year is when many of the pieces needed to kickoff adoption are expected to fall into place: WiMax-supported Intel processors, notebooks and devices from manufacturers, and broadband networks from two wireless carriers, Sriram Viswanathan, VP and general manager of Intel's WiMax Program Office, told InformationWeek.

WiMax, or World Interoperability For Microwave Access, is a wireless broadband standard that's designed to extend Wi-Fi networks across greater distances, such as a campus or sections of metropolitan areas. The 802.16 standard is theoretically capable of transmitting data up to 70Mbits per second as far as 37 miles.

Intel's carrier partners Sprint Nextel and Clearwire plan to offer the technology as a wireless broadband alternative to the 3G cellular networks offered by rivals such as AT&T and Verizon. Sprint and Clearwire are working together in rolling out a nationwide network that's expected to offer average data speeds of between 2Mbps and 4Mbps to 100 million people in the United States by the end of 2008. Much of the coverage will be in metropolitan areas.

For its part, Intel plans to ship in the second half of next year Montevina, the codename for its next-generation notebook processor technology that will support Wi-Fi and WiMax. PC manufacturers are expected to start announcing products containing the new technology four to six months before the Intel launch, Viswanathan said.

Intel and partners are banking that consumers and businesses will be willing to pay more for WiMax than current DSL or cable broadband because it will give them an always-on connection within the coverage area. In addition, download speeds are expected to be multiples faster than 3G networks offered by wireless carriers, and consumers can connect to the network on any WiMax-supported device. U.S. cellular networks are closed systems in which carriers control the types of devices that can be used to access the service.

"I would contend that there's a large segment of the consumer population that would pay north of $50 a month for that capability," Viswanathan said.

Intel sees WiMax as opening up new markets and widening current ones. It expects to sell its WiMax technology for use in current notebooks and handheld computers, as well as for devices still on the drawing boards. In addition, the company believes providers of Web services, such as Google and Yahoo, could one day offer devices at a subsidized price in return for a multi-year service contract, much like wireless carriers do with mobile phones today.

"To us, this is a very important thing because it gives Intel the opportunity to grow its business in a very substantial way," Viswanathan said.

On Tuesday, U.S. regulators approved a set of ground-rules for next year's auction of valuable wireless airwaves that a buyer could choose to use for WiMax. But what Intel found interesting was the Federal Communications Commission's decision to require the winner of the 700 MHz spectrum to make the airwaves accessible to any phone, device or software.

"These are core principles that WiMax stands for," Viswanathan said. "This is great news for the industry, because it supports a truly open-access mechanism for any device, application or service."

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