Intel has been helping put in place the technology infrastructure needed for WiMax networks. This summer, it laid out a road map for laptop chipsets that will make it easier to access mobile WiMax, and it expects to offer the chipsets to PC makers by year's end. WiMax is a wireless broadband technology that promises to offer far higher capacity and range than available with today's cellular systems.
The NetStructure WiMax Baseband Card is Intel's first integrated hardware and software platform for baseband processing, an industry term that refers to bridging a data access network with a radio access network. The baseband card is small enough for space-constrained environments and consumes less power than traditional cellular technology, says Keate Despain, director of marketing for Intel's Modular Communications Platform Division.
Equipment manufacturers can incorporate the baseband card into the WiMax base stations that they sell to service providers, including cellular carriers. Sprint Nextel is the first U.S. cellular carrier that has announced plans to embrace WiMax. It's unclear if Sprint Nextel will use base stations based on Intel's technology, although the carrier says it's working closely with Intel and Motorola to build out its $3 billion "fourth-generation" wireless broadband network over the next two years.
Some manufacturers have already begun incorporating Intel's baseband card into their products. Ultra Electronics TCS is integrating it into military radio systems. Other technology vendors, including Alliance Systems and Celestica, plan to announce products based on the baseband card this week. "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," Despain says.
Intel says its technology is upgradeable as standards evolve. The hardware is designed to handle both 802.16d (fixed) and 802.16e (mobile) standards for WiMax. The first software release will support fixed WiMax, followed by an upgrade to mobile WiMax in 2007. The upgrades will be possible through software downloads, says Despain. Intel will start selling the baseband card in December for $3,500.