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Vendors Begin To Introduce WiMax Infrastructure Gear

Intel, Motorola, Nokia, and Nortel Networks announce plans to roll out WiMax equipment for consumers and service providers.

WiMax got the push it needed this week when Intel, Motorola, Nokia, and Nortel Networks announced plans to roll out WiMax equipment for consumer and service providers. Commitment from established vendors means WiMax could become a mainstream wireless broadband technology in the next two years.

Motorola, at this week's WiMax World conference in Boston, rolled out its first line of WiMax consumer gear, a wireless modem that connects a customer's computer to a WiMax service provider. The company is offering units that can be mounted outdoors to provide service outside, and a device that can be used inside a home or office. Motorola says it will make the devices available for trials later this year. They should be widely available in the first half of next year.

The initial products have some limitations. The WiMax modems are too large to fit inside computers, so early users won't have much mobility. But Motorola is developing mobile WiMax chipsets that will be used in its cell phones and smartphones, which means people could connect to a WiMax network as they roam about town. The phones with WiMax chipsets will be launched in 2008 by telecom carriers in the United States, Japan, and other countries. So far, Sprint is the only major U.S. carrier with plans to sell Motorola's WiMax-enabled phones. The carrier says it will spend up to $3 billion over the next two years to build out its WiMax network.

Nokia also made a leap into mobile WiMax this week by unveiling its Flexi WiMax base station, designed for service providers that want to provide wireless broadband services to subscribers. The first base station will be commercially available at the end of next year for the 2.5 GHz band, which is used in the United States. Nokia will follow with base stations that support the 3.5 GHz band, which isn't available in the United States, and WiMax-capable mobile devices in 2008.

Service providers are getting more options when it comes to putting up WiMax base stations. Intel rolled out a package of hardware and software platforms that base station makers can incorporate into their towers to speed deployment of WiMax networks. Intel's NetStructure WiMax Baseband Card is small enough for space-constrained environments and consumes less power than traditional cellular technology. "Before this product release, a company venturing into the WiMax base station market would have made an investment up to 100 man-years to design just a standard processing capability," says Keate Despain, director of marketing for Intel's Modular Communications Platform Division.

Intel says its technology can be upgraded if standards change to support new features and functionality. The hardware is designed to handle both 802.16d (fixed) and 802.16e (mobile) WiMax standards. The first software release will support fixed WiMax, followed by an upgrade to mobile WiMax in 2007. The Baseband Card will sell for $3,500 starting December.

Telecom equipment maker Nortel this week rolled out a portfolio of mobile WiMax technologies for service providers, including base station transceivers, network gateways, antennas, mobile subscriber stations, and management systems. The technology is based on Multiple Input, Multiple Output technology, known as MIMO, which uses multiple antennas for improved performance. The equipment will let service providers offers things like mobile video, voice over IP, streaming media, file sharing, and electronic payment for goods over the Internet on mobile devices.

Intel has been one of the biggest advocates of WiMax, along with many startups that have ventured into the space. But new products from Motorola, Nokia, and Nortel--large equipment vendors that are experts at selling gear to service providers--are a sign that WiMax is ready for wide deployment. "Operators now see it as more viable technology," says Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research, "and they're more confident about it with support from the main vendors."

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