Vendors, carriers join Intel with WiMax plans

Several equipment makers and service providers are gearing up with Intel for WiMax products and service trials.

Intel's commercial launch of a WiMax wireless broadband chip on Monday brought out several equipment vendors planning products based on the chip as well as service providers saying they will hold trials of the technology.

The Intel Pro/Wireless 5116 chip, formerly code-named Rosedale, is based on the IEEE 802.16-2004 specification and designed for wireless services comparable to DSL (digital subscriber line) or cable modem offerings. Support for traditional TDM (time-division multiplexing) telephone service also is built in to the chip, according to Intel. The chip, announced last year and now available in volume, is priced at about US$45 each in quantities of 1,000 and is expected to go into consumer or business on-site devices priced from US$250 to US$550, said Intel spokeswoman Amy Martin.

WiMax is the commercial name of the network technology based on IEEE 802.16-2004, which allows for wireless data and voice system over a range of several miles. WiMax is expected to be deployed in most cases by service providers using licensed spectrum. The WiMax Forum later this year will begin certifying products to carry the WiMax name.

Intel unveiled a long list of vendors developing gear based on the chip, including Alvarion, Aperto Networks, Proxim, Redline Communications, Siemens, and China's Huawei Technologies and ZTE. Carriers planning trials include heavy hitters AT&T, BT Group, Brasil Telecom, Qwest Communications International.

Vendors and others backing WiMax are counting on the standard, approved last year, to allow for interoperability and the high volumes of manufacturing that typically drive electronics prices down. The WiMax Forum announced Monday that it launched a certification program at a meeting last week and expects approved products to hit the market by year's end. The Cetecom test lab in Malaga, Spain, will start accepting products in July to test for interoperability and conformance to the standard, the group said in a statement. Products should ship in November or December, it said.

Carrier trials are likely to occur before that time. Aperto, a WiMax vendor in California, plans to hold trials of Intel-based devices in August and September with several carriers, including Interbanda in Spain and Intertel in the Netherlands, said Alan Menezes, vice president of marketing. Aperto sees its biggest initial markets as Europe, Latin America and Asia, Menezes said.

Qwest, which serves consumers in 14 Western U.S. states has tested WiMax in several locations over the past year, according to spokeswoman Claire Mylott. The company sees WiMax as a tool for delivering broadband to customers in the many rural areas in its territory that it hasn't yet reached with high-speed data, she said.

AT&T plans to hold trials of WiMax service to enterprises in the U.S., said Behzad Nadji, vice president of research and vice president of enterprise network and system architecture. The trials will take place in three phases in three different states, with the first starting within a month in Middletown, New Jersey. The third trial will use a wireless mesh network covering a major city, Nadji said. AT&T sees WiMax as a possible way around paying incumbent local carriers for last-mile access to its customers, an expense that currently costs AT&T about US$10 billion per year, he said.

Alvarion, which has been shipping a "WiMax-ready" subscriber device based on its own chip, said it demonstrated equipment based on the Intel chip last week at the WiMax Forum meeting in Spain. Its Intel-based gear should be certified and on the market some time in the second half of this year, company officials said.

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