Intel plans mobile WiMax push next year

Hardware support and network rollouts bode well for 3G competitor

The WiMax hype machine may be getting ready to crank into life once again, with Intel planning a major campaign around mobile WiMax next year, connected to the launch of networks and hardware supporting the technology.

Next year major network rollouts and the launch of hardware supporting the mobile broadband standard will for the first time allow WiMax to complement (or compete with) wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi and 3G, said Intel.

The fixed-WiMax standard has been around for years, but only now is mobile WiMax, based on the IEEE 802.16e standard, coming into availability. Mobile WiMax offers a theoretical throughput of up to 70Mbit/s for as far as 37 miles, meaning that corporate and individual users could have access to broadband anywhere in the coverage area, using any WiMax-equipped device.

Actual speeds are likely to average between 2Mbit/s and 4Mbit/s, according to operators.

Tuesday saw the announcement that two major U.S. carriers -- Sprint Nextel and Clearwire -- will collaborate on the country's first nationwide mobile WiMax network, a US$3 billion project the companies said they expect to give a boost to the adoption of WiMax in other markets, such as Western Europe, that already have a high saturation of wired and wireless internet connectivity. The network is expected to begin offering services in the first half of next year.

In the U.K., Nortel is in mobile WiMax tests with Urban WiMax, a company that already provides fixed WiMax service, as well as Macropolitan, which manages sites where operators place network equipment, the companies said on Monday.

Intel is planning to take the opportunity of the Sprint-Clearwire launch, along with that of its own WiMax-enabled mobile processors, to launch a major campaign around mobile WiMax, according to Sriram Viswanathan, VP and general manager of Intel's WiMax Program Office.

Intel is launching "Montevina," a notebook processor supporting both Wi-Fi and mobile WiMax, in the second half of 2008. PC manufacturers are expected to begin announcing Montevina-based products four to six months, according to Viswanathan.

On Friday, Nortel, Urban WiMax and Macropolitan held a video conference between the U.K., Canada, and the U.S. using laptops equipped with PC cards that use mobile WiMax signals, said Sasha Williamson, chief executive of Urban WiMax. Other trials in the U.K. will follow to get feedback from end users on issues such as pricing and overall experience with the technology, he said.

Some have said the widespread deployment of Wi-Fi and 3G, especially in Western countries, has made mobile WiMax redundant.

But Intel argues that WiMax will be more appealing to users than 3G for internet applications, because it can combine home or office and mobile internet access into one technology, much as Wi-Fi does on a more localized scale.

A report this week from West Technology Research Solutions (WTRS) found that mobile WiMax could in fact find a substantial market in Western countries by opening up new types of end-user services.

"The impetus for a WiMax market development and expansion is the growth of services in end-user applications that utilize the expanded mobility and high bandwidth that WiMax affords," said WTRS principal analyst Kirsten West in a statement.

WiMax is also expected to catch on for backhaul uses and in developing countries, where competing wired and wireless infrastructure is less well established.

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