Cisco agreed to buy WiMax radio vendor Navini Networks for $330 million today, confirming long-standing rumours, and marking a big entry into the WiMax market.

Cisco's move follows the endorsement of WiMax as a 3G standard by standards maker ITU, and gives Cisco an established product line of WiMax base stations and modems, and 70 existing Navini customers.

Cisco will enter the market with a mobile WiMax product, where the future of the standard lies, and plans to merge both fixed and mobile WiMax with its Wi-Fi outdoor nodes and mesh gear, said a Cisco executive, creating affordable broadband wireless access to telecommunications infrastructures worldwide.

The buy changes the competitive landscape, says Daryl Schoolar, senior analyst, networking group at In-Stat: “First the ITU [International Telecommunications Union] accepts WiMax as a 3G standard, and now one of the largest networking vendors in the world shows its faith in the technology and in business models behind WiMax,” says Schoolar.

“It also creates competitive pressure on other well known players in the market such as Alcatel-Lucent and Nortel. It is one thing for those companies to bid against Navini for a large scale deployment, but another thing to go against Cisco.”

But the Cisco move could be bad news for Wi-Fi mesh, said Schoolar: “Cisco has been a significant player in that market as well, and I see WiMax as a whole negatively impacting the growth of mesh.”

Read our analysis: Can Cisco dominate the WiMax world?