In Depth: Intel's Chip Plans Give WiMax A Mighty Push Forward - InformationWeek

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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.

Despite its runaway Centrino success, Intel hasn't always bet right in the mobile market. Just last week, it bailed out of smart-phone communications chips by selling its business to Marvell Technology for $600 million after investing more than $3 billion. But it's not running from the mobile world. The Rosedale 2 chipsets are designed to support both fixed and more advanced mobile WiMax systems. Intel already sells a WiMax chipset called PRO/Wireless 5116--its first Rosedale chip--but that only supports the fixed version of the technology and comes embedded in bulky modems.

These chipsets will help drive the proliferation of WiMax-enabled devices, predicts Paul Sergeant, director of marketing for Motorola's wi4 WiMax products. Motorola is testing mobile WiMax in Pakistan, where Wateen Telecom, the country's major service provider, in May hired Motorola to design and deploy a nationwide wireless broadband network based on WiMax. In one of the most-ambitious mobile WiMax efforts yet, the company expects to support more than 1 million users, with the initial deployment expected to be completed by year's end.

It's that elusive combination of telcos providing service and people having the technology in hand to receive it that WiMax hasn't achieved. "There's a chicken-and-egg problem where laptop vendors and manufacturers won't start putting WiMax chips into laptops and other devices just because Intel recommends it as a good approach," says Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Intel intends to spur that change with a chipset that provides the Wi-Fi capabilities people know they want with the WiMax they likely wouldn't pay extra for at this point. The company expects to have an integrated fixed/mobile WiMax and Wi-Fi chipset, code-named Ofer-R, ready by 2008. Intel's vision is embedding chipsets on "ultramobile" PCs with 3-inch screens. Fujitsu pushed the WiMax vision further last week, announcing a mobile WiMax chipset it says will be available in August 2007 aimed at cell phones and consumer devices like cameras.

The Spectrum Question

WiMax could be a great way for well-funded newcomers to compete with incumbent carriers, except for one thing: The licensed spectrum it requires is scarce and expensive in the United States. The WiMax Forum, which certifies products for interoperability, has blessed only two bands: 2.5 GHz, which is mostly owned by Sprint Nextel and ClearWire, and 3.5 GHz, which isn't available in the United States. Sprint said last week it's evaluating several wireless technologies, known as 4G, to create an ecosystem of manufacturers, vendors, and operators to provide new services in the 2.5-GHz band. Sprint hasn't committed to a technology and says it's considering ones based on cellular and WiMax. However, at a Wireless Communications Association presentation last week, Sprint spoke more about Flash OFDM, a contender for mobile broadband, and an outgrowth of the UMTS standards used in Europe than it did about WiMax. Sprint will make a decision this summer.

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BellSouth's interest in WiMax is typical of many U.S. service providers: It wants to fill in gaps in rural areas or densely populated urban areas that are hard to reach with DSL. BellSouth owns spectrum in the 2.3-GHz band and is awaiting approval from the WiMax Forum to use it for a WiMax deployment, says Mel Levine, BellSouth's director of wireless product management. Intel plans to have its chipsets work in the 2.3-GHz band as well as 2.5 and 3.5. BellSouth said last week it will begin lab tests next quarter using mobile WiMax technology from Alcatel to find ways to offer wireless broadband Internet access. Commercial services could come as early as next year.

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