WiMax Gets Two New Friends: Cisco And The United Nations - InformationWeek
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WiMax Gets Two New Friends: Cisco And The United Nations

The wireless technology has a growing roster of backers, despite its still-uncertain future.

Cisco Systems bet almost $1 billion on Wi-Fi through its Airespace and Linksys acquisitions. Now it's putting money behind mobile WiMax, planning to buy Navini Networks for about $330 million.

Cisco is banking on a wireless portfolio of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi mesh, and now mobile WiMax infrastructure to drive high-speed broadband into new places, including emerging markets.

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Closer to home, Cisco sees WiMax, which promises wider coverage and faster speeds than Wi-Fi or cellular, expanding telecom coverage. "There are large parts of the U.S. where people can't get the bandwidth that they need," said Lynn Lucas, director of Cisco's mobility solutions marketing, during a panel at last week's Interop conference. "WiMax represents a huge opportunity to drive connectivity into areas where it's not available."

Navini's Ripwave MX product line includes modems, base stations, antenna arrays, and management systems to operate mobile WiMax. The vendor's largest customer is Unwired, an Australian company with 73,000 subscribers to its WiMax-based service, with plans to cover 70% of the country.

All for one and all for WiMax in Taipei

All for one and all for WiMax in Taipei

Photo by Patrick Lin/AFP
Navini specializes in integrating smart beamforming technologies (which concentrate a signal in one direction) with multiple-input/multiple-output (MIMO) antennas, a combination that can improve performance and range for WiMax-based services. Navini announced last week that it has formed the Smart Antenna RF Test Alliance, along with Beceem Communications, Fujitsu Microelectronics America, and Runcom Technologies, to make sure beamforming-plus-MIMO technology works across vendors' products.

A final mobile WiMax standard still hasn't been approved by the WiMax Forum, the technology's product certification authority, but Navini has been shipping products based on the IEEE 802.16e standard for several months. Navini says its products are "over-the-air software upgradable"--customers can buy now and upgrade if the standards body changes elements.

The WiMax standard got an important international thumbs up this month when the International Telecommunication Union, an agency of the United Nations, agreed to recognize it as a next-generation wireless technology. With its inclusion among International Mobile Telecommunications standards, WiMax joins a list of recognized 3G mobile technologies that includes CDMA, FDMA, and TDMA.


WiMax will get its biggest initial tests in countries that are trying widespread deployments, such as Taiwan and Pakistan. Taiwanese officials last week pledged to spend $664 million on a WiMax development program, looking to make the country the center of WiMax equipment manufacturing. Taiwan plans to cover the country with mobile WiMax in what would make it the technology's biggest test bed, and a business-government partnership also unveiled the technology's first WiMax application lab to let developers test new WiMax applications such as VoIP and entertainment.

Ron Resnick, an Intel executive who's also president of the WiMax Forum, likens WiMax's progress to how the Web was developed, with "a truly open infrastructure where no single operator or service provider dominates the technology." Five labs, scheduled to open worldwide by the end of this year, could certify WiMax products as interoperable, Resnick says.

For all its technological promise, WiMax's future is far from clear. In the United States, doubts about the cost and revenue potential for Sprint's $5 billion bet on a WiMax network contributed to CEO Gary Forsee's ouster this month. But the list of influential backers, with newcomers such as Cisco and the ITU joining stalwarts like Intel, continues to grow.

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