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Even though you can’t use a mobile WiMax network in the U.S. today, analysts are concerned about the lack of hardware: The first production networks are slated to launch in weeks and months, and the Associated Press says only a CPE (home adapter) from Zyxel and a PC Card from ZTE are available. Motorola told me some weeks ago their CPEs would be available in small quantities at launch, moving to mass production during 2008; I’m not sure why they didn’t ramp up in preparation, and they’re not mentioned in this article.
A few laptops and tablet PCs will include WiMax, including the Asus Eee ($1000, 2nd half 2008), OQO (no date or price), and a Nokia tablet (sometime in 2008, no price).
Given the small initial audience that will subscribe, and the newness of the technology, it’s not strange to have so few items, but I would have thought Sprint would have ensured a few CPE models were ready. This article may understate what will actually be available.
Sprint’s strategy is to allow consumers to buy any compatible device and then pay a fee to use it on the network. Prices haven’t yet been set for network service.
Clearwire started selling its nomadic PC Card today for its current flavor of pre-WiMax service: The card sells for $230 or can be leased for $7 per month. Service is 1.5 Mbps down and 256 Kbps, and costs $60 per month. If you want both home and nomadic service, it’s $95 per month including all modem rental fees, with an introductory $80 per month rate for three months. The home service is $45 per month when sold separately, so it’s a good deal.
This service is nomadic, meaning that while it might work when in motion, it’s designed for fixed operation within the service area.
Part of the rollout of mobile WiMax requires good end-user products: Zyxel will provide PC Cards and CPEs (adapters for the home) that will be bundled with Nortel gear. Runcom is working on phone and laptop integration. Sequans is developing more spectrally efficient WiMax, and Nortel is working with them for interoperability testing of their MIMO-based WiMax products.
Zyxel will offer a mobile WiMax CPE that also supports Wi-Fi and VoIP: These subscriber units are designed to receive a signal and then redistribute service via Wi-Fi without requiring two boxes. An indoor unit, the MAX-200H, has a four-port Ethernet switch; an outdoor version, the MAX-300, is ruggedized. The company also offers a mobile WiMax CPE with a SIP VoIP port and a PC Card. The product will ship later this 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.
Freescale and Wavesat will work together to create a customer premises equipment (CPE) gateway for businesses and homes: The two firms combine reference design boards from Freescale with chips from Wavesat. Reference designs are licensed to so-called OEMs (original equipment manfacturers), which customize the products appearance and firmware, choose parameters, and job out the production, typically to electronics makers across Asia in Taiwan, Singapore, and China. The devices will first support 802.16-2004 fixed service, but be upgradable to 802.16-2005 for fixed and mobile purposes. That upgradability likely means a different chip rather than firmware. A note at the end mentions 3.5 GHz, but there’s otherwise no mention of spectrum.
Wavesat and TI will develop a reference design for 802.16-2004 fixed 5.8 GHz mini-PCI adapters: These adapters are used for built-in components of laptops, but in this case, it sounds like they’re destined to be part of more compact CPEs (customer premises devices), or the bridges that receive WiMax signals. The press release says that this will handled the TDD (time division duplexing) profile for 5.725 to 5.875 GHz, which is a worldwide unlicensed band, and one of the first major profiles to be deployed. The companies expect to ship the design by fourth quarter, with Wavesat acting as the releasing firm.
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.
The Polish company’s card will be distributed by the Canadian firm: The card uses Wavesat WiMax chipsets to offer a CPE function in a PCI Card. Whether this is a good or bad idea, it’s hard to tell. It will decrease the cost of goods, unless making a PCI Card turns out to be a higher cost item due to lower unit sales. No pictures appear available at Polonix or ENTE’s sites.
A customer premises equipment (CPE) device that doesn’t require a truck roll is the holy grail for every new networking technology: When DSL moved from mostly truck roll to mostly UPS delivery, the industry exhaled and started counting their money. (At least until price wars started in some cities.) Self-installation turns all kinds of services from marginal or niche into profitable and widespread.
The BreezeMax Si is designed for indoor deployment, the company says, and works with their existing WiMax gear. The 802.16-2004-based CPE (using chips from Intel) handles both FDD and TDD (frequency time division duplexing), and implicitly can work with the same 2 GHz to 6 GHz range of possible frequencies that their BreezeMax base stations can operate in. FDD requires dedicated frequencies for uplink and downlink, while TDD uses synchronization to allow dynamic asymmetric traffic flows. Both have their supporters.
The supports of FDD and TDD along with a wide frequency range is a critical feature for WiMax CPEs as there are so many potential profiles that combine a channel width, duplexing type, and spectrum band that having inflexible CPE would limit sales even in the U.S., much less internationally.
The unit comes with an integral 9 dBi antenna, and an external, window-mountable 12 dBi antenna.
Alvarion issued a press release about their 10,000 BreezeMax Pro subscriber unit orders: They’ve shipped 5,000 of these already to 30 customers. These early units employ Intel’s 802.16-2004 chipset which can’t yet be called WiMax certified. Numbers from anyone else?
Alvarion ships customer-premises equipment (CPE) devices that use Intel’s WiMax chips: The announcement is a little obscure, and I spoke to Alvarion to work out the details. They’re shipping the BreezeMAX Pro CPE, which is what they call WiMax Ready CPEs. The device uses the Intel PRO/Wireless 5116. These aren’t WiMax-certified devices, and the chips may change between now and when certification for the chips is finalized.
Vice president of marketing at Alvarion, Carlton O’Neal, said in an interview, “This is a precursor to having a certified chip and CPE in the first half of next year.” O’Neal is bearish on certification, noting that the October testing by the WiMax Forum will probably have a reduced featureset that may not provide enough interoperable guarantees for major carriers to deploy equipment based on that iteration of WiMax.
But Alvarion has seen an uptake of its BreezeMax base station, which is being used in unlicensed bands in smaller towns and for niche purposes by companies that include Verizon and BellSouth. O’Neal said that as the base station was upgraded for WiMax certification, it would continue to support earlier generations of CPE designed for it, including the BreezeMax Pro CPE.
The Pro CPE will upgradable, O’Neal said: “The commitment we’ve made is that we would make a software and/or firmware upgrade for those BreezeMax base stations.” However, he noted, there may be “some money changing hands” and early deployers may have no need to swap out CPEs if the certified featureset offers no substantive improvements that can’t be delivered via firmware.
Alvarion introduced a self-installable CPE: Self installation was really one of the key original goals of WiMax. Some operators that have launched broadband wireless networks historically and failed, have said that the high cost of sending technicians out to install CPEs was one major issue that broke the business case. Self-installable CPEs will allow operators to send the modem to users who can set it up themselves, just like DSL or cable modem services.