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WiMax Is Coming, Say Execs At Supercomm

WiMax is an industry move to a standards-based use of wireless technology, and the FCC has several initiatives in the works to make it a reality.

The buzz around WiMax technology isn't all hype, industry executives told attendees at a Supercomm 2005 conference session Tuesday. What's more, equipment and service providers are starting to deliver products for mobile WiMax, which offers more roaming flexibility over the traditional fixed WiMax.

WiMax is an industry move to a standards-based use of wireless technology, and the Federal Communications Commission has several initiatives in the works to make it a reality. For example, the FCC has recently allocated the 3.65-3.70 GHz spectrum for WiMax, which other countries can use instead of creating their own spectrums. "The spectrum is globally harmonized for WiMax use, and right now the time is right for the technology," said Khurram Sheikh, chief technical adviser of broadband wireless access at Sprint, during the session.

Meanwhile, the standard for mobile WiMax, also known as IEEE 802.16e, is nearing completion and is expected to be ratified this month or July, according to the WiMax Forum, an industry group. Mobile WiMax goes beyond the capabilities offered by fixed WiMax, known as the IEEE 802.16-2004 standard. Mobile WiMax provides wireless broadband connectivity without the need for a device to have a direct line-of-sight with a base station, and the ability for people to stay connected to the Internet while on-the-go at much higher speeds than today's cellular-based technologies.

But before mobile WiMax can take off, an ecosystem is needed to make it work, said former FCC chairman and chief John Muleta. This means government regulations have to be in favor of WiMax, service providers have to aggressively pursue the market, equipment vendors have to be fully committed to delivering products, chips have to be mass marketed, customer premises equipment has to be offered at lower costs, and applications need to be developed to make it all work. The vision for mobile WiMax is a user-centric broadband wireless experience. "When we think about these future services we think about providing buckets of gigabytes instead of buckets of minutes," Khurram says.

Equipment costs are expected to go down for WiMax in the next three years. In 2004, proprietary WiMax equipment went for as much as $1,000, said Ron Peck, director of marketing for Intel's WiMax Group. In 2007, however, PC cards for mobile WiMax are expected to cost about $100. Once PC cards hit the mass market, Intel plans to integrate them into laptops and phones. Said Peck: "But really, getting 802.16e into high volume will affect the price points."

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