The first mobile WiMax chips are now available.

Beceem Communications has produced a WiMax digital base band and integrated radio chip set for handheld devices. The MS120 chip set is based on the IEEE 802.16e spec.

Beceem is also shipping a reference design kit for the WiMax modem, including host driver software. Although the work by the IEEE on mobile WiMax is not complete, vice president of development for Beceem, Lars Johnsson, guaranteed full compliance when it was.

Mobile WiMax devices must still wait for the availability of WiMax networks however. Mobile WiMax technology provides a range equivalent to cellular but at far superior performance.

Using 10MHz of available spectrum, mobile WiMax is expected to have a 30Mbit/s peak rate with one kilometre range in densely populated areas and up to five kilometres in rural areas.

Although the carriers have a great deal of money invested in buying spectrum for deployment of their 3G networks, the WiMax chips would offer a competitive alternative.

WiMax uses OFDM technology, which has a lower power consumption rate than Wi-Fi chip sets, making it attractive to handset manufacturers. Plus it has the ability to use minimum bandwidth when connecting to the network and only uses the highest speeds when there is real traffic. The system shuts off, into sleep mode, the moment the last packet arrives, according to Johnsson. "Wi-Fi can't do that," he said.

Senior analyst at Jupiter Research, Julie Ask, said that while carriers are committed to other technologies for their 3G networks, they are evaluating technology for future 4G networks around 2010. "WiMax is a potential 4G technology. All the carriers are looking at it, but no decision has been made," she said.