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Nokia will offer tablet PCs with Intel’s WiMax chips in the first half of 2008: A big win for Intel, which has had little uptake prior to this in mobile phone chips, selling off their previous business to Marvell last year.
The firm’s mobile WiMax chipset worked with Alcatel, Alvarion, Motorola, and Navini equipment at a plugfest: Beceem is working towards embedding its chips in client devices. Intel and Samsung are major investors in Beceem, which would likely lead to these chips being part of equipment delivered to Sprint customers for its mobile WiMax service next year. The chips are already used in South Korean WiBro networks.
Rosedale 2 will support 802.16-2004 and -2005: That means both flavors of fixed WiMax plus the portable and mobile support in the -2005 standard. Rosedale 2 isn’t sized for laptops, but rather for CPEs, modems, and possibly picocell base stations. By year’s end, Intel will release Ofer-R with Wi-Fi and WiMax in a single package. They want to push WiMax modems below $50.
TeleCis Wireless has a fixed WiMax demonstration network running to showcase their chip, which competes with Intel’s: The company claims a higher area for their WiMax implementation than Intel’s, but it’s important to remember that there’s no certified chips or reference designs yet. In the certification process, tweaks can be required to meet the trade group spec and that can affect performance.
The article unfortunately repeats several myths about fixed WiMax: A Wi-Fi antenna’s reach is typically about 100 meters while a WiMax signal can travel 1-to-3 miles easily and as far as 10 miles under the right conditions. A WiMax user does not need a line of sight to an antenna like a Wi-Fi user.
The big difference is mobility. Wi-Fi is designed as a mobile spec; fixed WiMax is not. Wi-Fi isn’t a point-to-multipoint standard, but it can work in that mode. However, it’s best used for point-to-point over long distances. Wi-Fi can run many, many miles in point-to-point configurations using existing technology. That’s not really the difference.
The non-line-of-sight (NLOS) issue is separate. WiMax isn’t magic. It can’t penetrate physical objects in a way that Wi-Fi can’t. Instead, it’s designed to be much more robust than Wi-Fi, which is highly sensitive to obstacles in its direct LOS. Radio waves still have to get through the Fresnel zone, as I understand it, to work in NLOS situations. (RF experts are welcome to post below with more detailed explanations!)
Intel plans to demonstrate its Glenfield reference design for WiMax base stations at Supercomm: The boards use Intel’s own MAC (media access control) and physical layer from PicoChip. Intel says the boards are being evaluated by vendors. Intel typically focuses on making components for end user equipment, rather then network gear. We’ll have to see how Intel manages to compete for a share of the network equipment market.
Telephony takes a look at Fujitsu’s WiMax chip: I’m not totally sure why the magazine is running this news story now when Fujitsu introduced the chip about a month ago. Regardless, the story offers some good details about the chip, including that it includes its own Media Access Control and a radio that can be tuned anywhere between 1.75 MHz and 20 MHz. The chip incorporates a wide range of capabilities, which Fujitsu thinks may allow a wider range of companies to enter the WiMax market. Aperto and Terabeam are two companies that say they’ll use the chips.
Terabeam said it will use Fujitsu’s WiMax chip in its TeraMax product line: Terabeam is planning on making TeraMax WiMax compliant. Terabeam made a name for itself back in the boom when it came out with a free space optic line of products, which at the time seemed really space age. The company also managed to attract Dan Hesse, the former head of AT&T Wireless, to lead the company, though he’s no longer with the company. Terabeam is also notable for having bought the remains of Ricochet, which still operates networks in San Diego and Colorado.
Fujitsu offers chip similar to Intel, hot on its heels: In the wake of Intel’s announcement that it has WiMax chips ready to hit manufacturers, Fujitsu’s news shows the market is finally starting to roll over the big hump of silicon. Certification is still months away, but at least there will be multiple chip vendors in the market, a general requirement for interoperability testing and certification of new networking standards like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Fujitsu is claiming a higher level of integration in their chips than Intel offers, and WirelessNewsFactor agrees. Aperto will use both chipsets, however. The chip can be configured for either base station or consumer premises equipment use.
Aperto said it will use Fujitsu chips for its PacketWave base stations and business-grade customer premise equipment: Aperto said that multiple carrier field trials have been planned using the products based on the Fujitsu chip. Earlier this week, Aperto said it would use Intel’s chips in its consumer-grade customer premise equipment.
TI announced today three RF chips for WiMax: The chips will be available in ranges near the 2.5 GHz, 3.5 GHz, and 5 GHz bands. For example, the higher band chip supports 4.9 GHz to 5.9 GHz, so a vendor could use the same chip but filter it so that it focuses on a more narrow band as required by customers. “If the silicon vendors were to provide a device for every specific frequency there’d be an infinite number because every carrier has a different frequency they want to use in every country,” said Zatil Hamid, marketing development manager for TI’s wireless infrastructure group. “The best way to do it is to have as wide a range as possible while maintaining high performance and giving the customer the flexibility to tune to the specific frequency they want.”
The initial WiMax products will contain an RF chip that is separate from the chip that supports the MAC and the PHY layers. This allows vendors to use the same MAC/PHY chip across many products that support different frequency bands. Companies like Intel and Fujitsu tend to focus on the PHY/MAC chips while TI, with a history of serving the cellular industry, is also making the RF portion.
The TI chips can be used in both the base station and the CPE, allowing vendors to leverage the volumes of CPEs that will be sold. Also, TI expects these chips to be usable in the mobile 802.16e devices. Even though the 802.16e standard isn’t yet complete, it’s expected that the radio portion will remain the same as the current standard.
TI is shipping pre-production units of the chips with volume availabilities later this year.
Aperto said it will use Intel’s chips for its consumer grade WiMax subscriber equipment: Aperto will use Intel’s chips in customer premise equipment using the 3.5 GHz, 2.5 GHz, and 5 GHz bands. It appears that a lot of vendors will be making big announcements at Broadband Wireless World, happening this week in Las Vegas. Many of the announcements seem to surround chips—either the availability of WiMax chips or vendor choices of chips. Vendors are making these announcements just prior to the scheduled July start of the WiMax certification process. Most chips, however, have been available in small quantities to equipment vendors who have been making test models available to certain customers. The press release doesn’t seem to be online yet but should appear here.
Intel is expected to release Rosedale, its WiMax chip today: Along with that announcement, I expect a number of articles from the mainstream press that are likely to skew the facts. This Business Week article is a case in point. The article has some inaccuracies (such as stating that McCaw founded Clearwire in 1998; in reality, he bought the company last year) but also extends some stretching of the truth that was likely offered to the writer by Intel. For example, the article states that WiMax will offer speeds six times as fast as existing broadband technologies. While WiMax is capable of delivering very high throughput, residential users are likely to be offered speeds quite similar to that offered by DSL and cable modem services because it will allow the WiMax operators to offer the service to more customers. The article also says that by developing the WiMax standard, Intel has “stolen a march on rivals like Fujitsu.” In fact, I see WiMax as offering great potential business for the likes of Fujitsu, which is expected to be one of the earliest chip makers to release a WiMax chip. Wi-LAN, a major broadband wireless vendor, has already said it will use the Fujitsu chips and I’ve got advance news of another major vendor that plans to announce later this week that it will use the Fujitsu chip.
Intel is expected to also announce vendors that have decided to use Rosedale and offer a recap of WiMax trials around the globe. I’ve got at least one announcement from a vendor that will use the chip but it’s not public until the wee hours of the morning in the U.S. so stay tuned.
A recent IDC report urges chip makers to proceed with caution into the WiMax industry: While the analyst seems generally upbeat about the prospects for WiMax, he also advises chip makers to be careful before jumping into the market. He suggests they make sure that they are confident that operators are interested in WiMax.
He describes three main markets for WiMax: hotspot backhaul, rural markets, and the broad mobile market for 802.16e. But the hotspot backhaul and rural markets are only niche markets so the big question for chip makers is whether or not the broader market will materialize.
That seems to be the million dollar question here. Actually, the broader WiMax market could develop in a backwards fashion. If the 802.16e spec turns out good and Intel succeeds in pushing WiMax into laptops, that may encourage operators to build the networks. That’s opposite of how this usually works. Typically, even in the mobile world, the client devices follow the networks. Here, it may take embedded client devices to convince operators that there is a real market of users out there.
A deal between Intel and Chinese vendor ZiMax seems to be one of the biggest headlines coming out of the Wireless Communications Association conference this week: ZiMax, a subsidiary of ZTE, will use Intel’s Rosedale chips to make fixed WiMax gear.
Apparently Intel and others at the conference were really focusing on the mobile version of WiMax gear to come. It seems that the first version of WiMax has been taking a beating recently, with a lot of analysts and others taking note of its shortcomings and market challenges. The mobile version is quite a ways into the future though, so market development during that time frame could affect its potential for success.
Intel also pushed the idea of whittling down the number of WiMax profiles to ensure interoperability once the mobile version hits the market. Some of the vendors have told me that the first wave of WiMax gear won’t interoperate, which means that an operator can’t buy base stations from several vendors but CPEs from one, in order to realize economies of scale. This defeats part of the purpose of having a standard. Interoperability is much more important with the mobile or portable versions, however, as users’ clients will have to operate on various base stations from different vendors as they move.
Wavesat is the first to issue a WiMax chip, though it hasn’t met official certification yet: It’s a baseband-only unit and Wavesat has hired Atmel to make the radio component. Still, Wavesat beats the big guys like Intel and Fujitsu, which probably isn’t terribly surprising as the smaller companies usually get to market first. As this research study notes, however, when the Intels of the world do reach the market, their production capacities are so much greater that they’ll likely quickly eclipse Wavesat.
Daily Wireless has some great detail about both the Wavesat chip and other chips that are in the works. The story references a paid research report from Unstrung that suggests that the performance of initial certified WiMax networks is likely to be less than that of existing proprietary systems. That’s in line with much of what I’ve heard from analysts and vendors. But standards are usually a lowest common denominator, allowing vendors to build on them to create a better mousetrap.
AT&T and Intel said they formed a deal six months ago to work on a chip: The chip, which could operate in cell phones, PDAs, and set-top boxes, would let customers click on an AT&T icon to make voice over IP calls. The two will also work on extending the range of WiMax, though I’m not entirely sure why AT&T in particular should be in the position to contribute to such development.
The arrangement probably helps Intel more than AT&T. While Centrino was an obvious step in the right direction, Intel has long openly been eager to expand its presence in the communications space. This deal could get its chips into cell phones, a huge market where Intel doesn’t have much play yet. However, without a cell phone network, it’s not entirely clear how AT&T might help get Intel chips built into mobile phones.
It’s always tough to determine whether deals like this—slightly vague, far-reaching partnerships between two heavy-hitters—will actually produce anything. We’ll just have to wait and see.