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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.
Verizon Communications is testing WiMax equipment it may use for niche apps in places it doesn't offer wireline broadband services. Cingular, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless also say they have no plans to deploy U.S. WiMax networks, although T-Mobile International has conducted several trials and recently deployed a service based on the technology on British trains.

More U.S. spectrum could become available. Decades ago the federal government allocated part of the 2.5-GHz spectrum to schools for educational television programming that never took off. Now the schools have to use it or see it auctioned off. Some, including the Milwaukee Public Schools, are evaluating WiMax's potential to provide wireless broadband access in students' homes. Other auctions could yield even more-valuable spectrum. The FCC will sell 1,100 licenses in the 1.7-GHz and 2.1-GHz bands this August. Lower frequencies would let WiMax penetrate homes better and be broadcast over wider areas.

There's A Business Need

An estimated 175 WiMax trials have been launched worldwide, with 35 commercial fixed service offerings already up and running--mostly in the 3.5-GHz band, Intel says. WiMax networks can be found in Croatia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Taiwan, where the appeal of delivering broadband without laying expensive fiber outweighs the risk of working with still-emerging technology.

Some U.S. businesses are turning to vendors like TowerStream that provide WiMax-based broadband as a T1 replacement or backup. TowerStream offers service based on fixed WiMax with VoIP in parts of Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Providence, R.I. ClearWire, the company founded by cellular pioneer Craig McCaw, sells wireless broadband using proprietary technology related to WiMax in a number of midsize markets.

There are other fledgling markets for WiMax in the United States. Just ask Manish Gupta, marketing VP at equipment maker Aperto Networks, who rattles off municipal wireless networks from companies such as EarthLink, wireless coverage for cable operators, and organizations with lots of mobile employees, like police or utilities. The FCC's deregulation of DSL goes into effect in August, meaning phone companies such as AT&T and Verizon no longer must let independent Internet service providers such as AOL and EarthLink run DSL services through their wires. ISPs will need an alternative access pipeline, and WiMax is a candidate. The WiMax Forum predicts cities will become "metro zones" blanketed by wireless broadband, once WiMax is incorporated into mass-market laptops and PDAs.

A World Of WiMax
Taiwan Chunghwa Telecom is using WiMax to connect Wi-Fi zones
Sri Lanka Lanka Internet is developing a WiMax network in Colombo
Ireland Irish Broadband and Intel are building WiMax networks in eight cities
Alaska AT&T uses WiMax and other fixed wireless technologies here and in other states to get broadband to people not reached by DSL
3G cellular networks also will continue to grow and, with improved technology, deliver better data service and coverage. The major PC makers this year started offering or made plans to offer laptops with EV-DO chips and built-in cellular data modems. WiMax also isn't likely to displace existing wired technology such as DSL and cable. Instead, mobile WiMax likely will work in concert with existing networks to fill in and extend coverage. U.S. businesses in the next year can expect to see fixed WiMax as an increasingly viable option in some areas for what Aperto CEO Michael Pratt calls "competitive bypass," an alternative to conventional telecom companies, at least for certain niche services like backup and remote office connectivity.

IT managers are watching these technologies, but what they really want is to not have to worry about them. Robert Neill, director of IT systems at ATP, which governs men's pro tennis, says what's needed are devices that let people use any available network--Wi-Fi, 3G cellular, or WiMax. "We need some method to persistently gain access to these physical carriers with one logical account, meaning cooperation among carriers similar to the way we're able to use a mobile phone or BlackBerry," Neill says.

As for the dream of videoconferencing over the Web, seamlessly switching across WiMax networks while sailing along on the commuter train or riding in a taxi at 70 mph? In this untested market, that one has a long way to go. But for signs of progress, keep an eye out for those WiMax chips showing up in laptops.

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