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April 13, 2005

Intel sees single-chip WLAN/WiMAX “within four years”

Intel expects to produce chips handling both WiFi and WiMAX within four years and expects WiMAX-only chips to undergo the same kind of kind of price drop to the one experienced by WiFi ones, which have gone from $50 to $10-$25 over a three-year period.

By CBR Staff Writer

Sean Maloney, executive VP and general manager of Intel’s Mobility Group, said the Santa Clara, California-based semiconductor company advocates that WiMAX spectrum be licensed by governments, as this is the only way for networks to be properly provisioned to deal with expected user numbers, using network load modeling techniques.

For this reason, it anticipates that WiMAX will be used for WAN connectivity of mobile devices, i.e. when they are out and about in the world, with WiFi continuing to prevail on campus, hence the importance of developing dual-mode chipsets. WiMAX will also be used as backhaul for WiFi hotspots, he predicted. Furthermore, Maloney said dual-mode chips will be important as there will continue to be a large number of devices which will be WiFi only.

Intel has just gone into production of Rosedale, its first-generation WiMAX processor, conforming to the 802.16d standard, a.k.a. wireless DSL, in that it is suited to wireless extension of fixed networks. Chips for the 802.16e standard, which is designed for mobility, will follow over the next 12-18 months, said Maloney, so you can expect to see them going into notebooks in the back half of 2006.

This of course raises the issue of whether the two standards will be interoperable. No inherently, according to Maloney, who cited the similar situation currently prevailing in WiFi, where APs ship with two different radios, one for 802.11a or b (depending on whether you’re in the US or Europe) and one for 802.11g. For the two WiMAX standards, he went on, we’ll do a workaround in the silicon.

Maloney admitted that one of the downsides to WiFi at the moment is the need to search for a signal to get connected. The aim with WiMAX, on the other hand, is to be just like cellular, where you just switch on and get a signal. As for the higher data rates in cellular telephony promised by the HSDPA standard (sometimes referred to as a 3.5G standard in that it is a second-generation 3G technology), he said there are already moves afoot within the telco community to harmonize HSDPA and WiMAX.

This has come up, he explained, because the HSDPA people want to use orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) for spectral efficiency, and since that’s an integral part of WiMAX, we argue: why not do all the harmonization at one go? This raises the possibility that those same WiFi/WiMAX chips emerging four years hence could also be next-generation HSDPA.

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