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December 6, 2006

Intel trots out its first WiMax mobile chipset

Intel Corp has showed off its first mobile WiMax baseband chipset, which it hopes will begin appearing in notebooks as early as 2008, during a keynote demo at the 3G World Congress and Mobility Marketplace event in Hong Kong.

By CBR Staff Writer

The chipset certainly will move Intel closer to its vision of WiMax driving the next wave of personal broadband laptops and handhelds. Whether the technology will indeed become a dominant global technology remains to be seen.

Intel began releasing fixed WiMax products last year. But it expects the heavy investment by industry in WiMax to be in the 802.16e mobile WiMax standard, according to Dave Hofer, director of marketing in Intel’s wireless division.

After all, 802.16e, which was ratified by the IEEE in December 2005, can be used for both fixed and mobile deployments. A number of customers will use the e spec in fixed applications, Hofer said.

Mobile WiMax is an alternative wireless WAN technology and promises fast mobile connectivity beyond the reach of WiFi hotspots. Intel and others expect the two technologies to be complimentary.

Intel’s new chipset, called WiMax Connection 2300, will be bundled with Intel’s multi-band WiMax/WiFi radio, which means it will work with both WiFi and WiMax networks.

WiMax, we think, augments WiFi, Hofer said. He expects WiFi will remain the wireless network of choice on enterprise campuses, but that companies will want to switch to WiMax off-site.

Our vision is that you’ll build WiFi and WiMax into notebooks and small form-factor devices and can bridge across wide area and local area networks, Hofer said.

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However, it won’t be seamless at first. Initial versions of Intel’s mobile WiMax products will enable devices to switch between the two networks, via software, but only with a break in the connection, Hofer said. Eventually we will have automatic roaming, without any connection interruption, he added. No word yet on when that may be.

Intel’s new chipset also will support 802.11n wireless LAN because it has multiple input/multiple output, or MIMO, functionality – the first WiMax chip from Intel to do so.

Initial applications of the chipset will be in notebooks, but Intel expects its WiMax silicon will also find its way into smaller devices, such as PDAs and ultra-mobile, or handheld, PCs.

Intel plans to begin sampling add-in cards with the chipset, as well as module forms to be embedded within notebooks, later next year. Hofer declined to comment on whether Intel would use multiple antenna vendors to supply the antennas on the add-in card. (Device manufacturers would source their own).

WiMax, or worldwide interoperability for microwave access, often is viewed as being much hyped yet emerging. Intel is one of its most prolific proponents.

At a base level, WiMax is more cost effective than existing technologies – service providers can provide higher bandwidth with lower costs, Hofer said. For businesses, it is going to be a more economic broadband connection.

WiMax is more effective from a radio spectrum efficiency standpoint because it is built on all-IP network, unlike other wide area networks, such as cellular, he added.

Heavy mobile bandwidth applications, such as video conferencing and video customer support, are among the uses of WiMax for enterprise, Hofer said.

While global deployment of WiMax has been slow, with just 170 or so WiMax projects recognized by the WiMax Forum, Intel is not along in its optimism about the technology.

Notably, Sprint Nextel Corp announced in August that it would plough about $3bn to build the first nationwide WiMax network in the US during the next few years. It has enlisted the help of Intel, Motorola Inc and Samsung Corp to build out the network infrastructure and devices to link to it.

And in late August, Motorola said it was working on its own 802.16e chipsets for its forthcoming mobile devices, which it plans to also launch in 2008 for its carrier customers, which include Sprint in the US and Japan.

Motorola also plans to use Intel’s dual-mode baseband chipset, the WiMax Connection 2250, that supports both the fixed 802.16-2004 and mobile 802.16e-2005 specs, for its forthcoming CPEi 200 series of WiMax customer-premise equipment.

Still, AT&T Inc last month abandoned its 802.16e mobile WiMax trial in the Netherlands saying the technology was still too immature to form the basis of a service to enterprise customers.

Intel’s WiMax Connection 2300 was demoed in by Intel sales chief and marketing office Sean Maloney in Centrino Duo -based laptop with 802.16e-2005, 802.11n and high-speed downlink packet access, or HSDPA, 3G capabilities. He successfully accessed the Internet at broadband speeds over a mobile WiMax network.

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