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Chips, Systems, And Certification Pave Path To Global WiMax

Intel and WiLan have revealed WiMax silicon and systems, respectively, that together mark a crucial stage on the path to interoperability testing by midyear and fully certified systems by year's end.

Patrick Mannion

April 18, 2005

4 Min Read

MANHASSET, N.Y. — Intel and WiLan have announced WiMax silicon and systems, respectively, that together mark a crucial stage on the path to interoperability testing by mid-year and fully certified systems by year's end.

The drive for certified systems got a boost last week during a quarterly meeting of the WiMax Forum in Malaga, Spain, headquarters of the group's Cetecom interoperability testing lab. The Forum launched its certification program by detailing its process and timelines, which call for the lab to start testing in July.

According to WiMax Forum President Ron Resnick, that will lead to fully certified products as early as November. The Forum will initially certify equipment based on two profiles: time division duplex (TDD) and frequency division duplex (FDD) in the 3.5-GHz band with 3.5-MHz channel widths.

Also at the meeting, the Forum announced support from Korean wireless developers to promote Forum-certified products. It als formalized an agreement with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute that ensures a single global standard for wireless metropolitan area network technology.

So armed, Intel, WiLan and a host of other broadband wireless chip and system providers will use the new WiMax and Broadband Wireless Access Conference in London and Broadband Wireless World in Las Vegas to promote their new WiMax offerings.

Originally codenamed Rosedale, Intel's single-chip modem and applications processor have been relabeled as the Intel PRO/Wireless 5116 broadband interface. Though the chip has been shipping to test sites for six months already, Monday (April 18) marks the official launch, with pricing set at $47 each per 1,000, according to Joe English, director of marketing for Intel's broadband wireless division (Hillsboro, Ore.).

The launch bodes well for WiMax, said English, who emphasized the inherent cost advantages of designing around a single standard. "That drives down costs, and when Intel starts integrating [the new chip] into its platforms, [WiMax will] take off," he said.

Twelve companies are already producing the Intel chip, said English, though only six were revealed: Alvarion, Aperto, Proxim, Airspan and Huawei. Carrier partners include AT&T, Qwest, Brasil Telecom and TowerStream. English said he expects the chip to be integrated into notebooks in 2006, and to have a chip based on 802.16e, the mobile version, by the end of 2006. The PRO/Wireless 5116 chip uses a 0.13-micron process and includes two ARM9 processors, one for the modem and one for applications processing. Though it specifically targets customer premise equipment applications (CPE), English said, "there are different classes of basestations" and he expects the chip to be paired with an Intel IXP-based network processor for smaller pico-basestation-class applications.

While Aperto announced Monday it has chosen the 5116 chip for its own CPE devices, it has not revealed what chip it will use for its basestations. Industry expectations are that it will turn to Fujitsu. Details of Fujitsu's chip, called AirMan, will be revealed later this week (April 21) at the Broadband Wireless show. Indications are that it is also a single-chip modem/applications system-on-chip with a single ARM925 processor. According to a company spokesman, Fujitsu will more than match Intel on pricing with a sub-$50 target.

Fujitsu is already sampling the chip to WiLan (Calgary, Alberta), which helped Fujitsu develop the physical and media access control layers. That company plans to use the chip in its next-generation of basestations, which will follow the launch Monday of its Libra MX line. It's fourth-generation system, Libra MX will initially support the company's proprietary wideband-OFDM technology, according to Ken Wetherell, WiLan's vice president of corporate communications.

However, the system can be upgraded to WiMax via a card-swap, he added. The hot-swap capability is one of the key advantages Libra MX has over previous generations.

Wetherell said the logic for pre-WiMax deployments is clear. "It makes a lot of sense to do it now," he said. "You can target your high-value customers and then as lower-cost [WiMax] CPEs become available you can roll out to consumers. So, you can recoup your investment sooner and have fast time-to-market." The next-generation Libra MAX system will support both currently deployed proprietary CPEs, as well as Wi-Max CPEs, he noted.

The CPEs cost $1,500, though the company expects to get below $500 by the end of 2006 using the Fujitsu chip. WiLan will use the AirMAN for both the CPE and basestation, citing its "better than expected" performance.

Libra MX supports up to six sectors, costs $15,000 per sector and is available now. Typically, up to 100 customers can be supported per sector with a range of 3 to 5 km. "With dynamic modulation you can go further," said Wetherell, "but your throughput would be lower."

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