Navini Networks has launched a PC card that will hook mobile devices to 3.5GHz "fixed" wireless broadband services. It's not WiMax, but it's part of an upgrade to mobile WiMax when it arrives, says the company.

"It's not a WiMax card, because the 802.16e standard is not complete," said Sai Subramanian
vice president marketing at Navini. "But the solution we offer today has all the attributes of a 802.16e plug and play portable broadband system: you can have broadband wherever you are."

The card, launched today at the WiMax Summit in Paris and available to customers in June, can be used with fixed wireless networks based on Navini's proprietary Ripwave products. These include Irish Broadband, and Unwired Australia, which has a 3.5GHz network covering Sydney. It uses Navini's Smart Antennas and adaptive beam forming, to deliver mobile broadband, said Subramanian.

The card will cost Navini's service provider customers more than a Wi-Fi card, but will be sold cheaply or bundled with a broadband service, he said: "The basic idea behind personal broadband is to give the end user a service that is not that much more expensive than DSL or cable," said Subramanian. "You can charge a little bit of a premium, but not a factor of ten, like some of the 3G guys are doing."

Navini is a member of the WiMax Forum, but has already deployed around 30 networks in the 3.5GHz and 2.3GHGz bands, using its proprietary Ripwave products. After abruptly joining the WiMax Forum a year ago, it is in the process of moving its products to the 802.16 WiMax standards.

As cheap items, these cards may or may not be upgradable to 802.16e, said Subramanian. Navini will only discuss the details of the migration path with its service provider customers. "People want to roll out services now, and also have a rational evolution plan to 802.16e," said Subramanian. "It's a complex discussion, where we show our customers how to move their customers over. We will minimise any expenditure that is throwaway, and do software upgrade wherever possible." In the longer term, he expects these cards to be largely unnecessary, as WiMax will be built into a future generation of Centrino laptops.

Navini also plans to launch a card for the 2.5-2.6GHz band, in which it also has customers: "Of our 50 networks, two thirds will launch PC cards this year."