WiMax equipment and component makers this week announced steady progress on fixed wireless broadband products but looked eagerly to a future mobile WiMax as industry participants gathered at the Wireless Communications Alliance's WCA International Symposium & Business Expo in San Jose, California.
With a standard for fixed WiMax complete and a product certification program in the works, vendors are preparing to ship interoperable base stations and customer premises equipment (CPE) later this year. They see the technology as an alternative to stationary broadband services such as DSL (digital subscriber line) and cable. The WiMax Forum industry group is expected to start certifying interoperability of products around the middle of this year. However, some vendors are now focusing greater attention on a mobile form of WiMax that is still being standardized and is expected to hit the market next year.
Tireless WiMax backer Intel announced it is teaming up with one of China's biggest telecommunications equipment makers on both generations of WiMax. ZiMax Technologies, a subsidiary of Shenzhen, China-based ZTE, will use Intel's upcoming Rosedale chip set in infrastructure and CPE equipment for fixed WiMax. ZiMax, which has offices in San Diego, Shenzhen, and Shanghai, plans to begin shipping fixed WiMax gear this year for carriers in China, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia, according to the company.
Intel is confident that Rosedale-based equipment will find a receptive market for fixed WiMax services, but it has higher hopes for services that will work on the road.
"Rosedale starts the WiMax clock ... in terms of building market momentum," said Scott Richardson, general manager of Intel's Broadband Wireless Division, in an interview at the conference. However, "the mobile opportunity ends up being the largest opportunity," he said. Intel expects to integrate mobile WiMax into its Centrino chip set along with Wi-Fi beginning in late 2006, with a wide rollout in 2007.
The companies also will jointly contribute to the development of standards and specifications for both fixed and mobile WiMax, said Sean Maloney, Intel executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Communications Group, in a keynote address Wednesday at WCA.
A key to the success of mobile WiMax will be more unified specifications, Richardson said. Currently the WiMax Forum industry group defines many implementation options through what it calls "profiles," he said. That may work for fixed WiMax because the customer equipment for that technology stays at the subscriber's home, but it won't work for a mobile technology in which a device could be brought to many different countries, he said.
Ultimately, Intel would like to see the WiMax Forum narrow the options down from something on the order of 20 to just a few, Richardson said.
Intel and ZiMax also will push for harmonized allocation of spectrum for WiMax, with an eye to 2.5GHz as a band that could be opened to mobile WiMax in many countries, allowing for international roaming, Richardson said.
RHK Inc. analyst Nitin Shah warned that getting many countries to agree on use of a spectrum band is a tall order. The 2.5GHz band is assigned to wireless broadband services in much of the Western Hemisphere, but not in many other parts of the world, Shah said.