Intel has teamed up with Alcatel to offer systems using the 802.16d WiMax standard for fixed wireless broadband and said it plans to be the first silicon vendor to market with chips based on the newly-ratified standard.
The deal is one of the first product announcements for WiMax, which promises an alternative to existing broadband in urban areas, and is being trialled by BT as a cheap way of blanketing remote rural areas with ADSL-like wireless services. Intel believes the standard will make WiMax equipment cheap and ubiquitous, as has become the case with Wi-Fi, while critics warn they may go with proprietary solutions rather than wait for the standards process to drag on.
Alcatel said on Thursday it is planning to ship Intel-based 802.16d products in the second half of 2004, but testing and evaluation means the systems will only arrive on the market a year later. Several other silicon vendors have announced products based on the standard. Wavesat, for example, said it will begin sampling in May and ship in volume by the end of this year.
BT said last month it is trialling fixed WiMax in Ballingry in Fife, Scotland, Pwllheli in Wales, Porthleven in Cornwall and Campsie in Northern Ireland, and said it would investigate mobile WiMax when it becomes available with the ratification of 802.16e, expected next year. The 802.16e standard is intended to add mobile capabilities to 802.16d equipment with a simple upgrade.
WiMax promises a theoretical maximum throughput of 70Mbit/s over 50 kilometres, and incorporates point-to-multipoint technology, meaning users don't have to be in the line of sight of a tower. The high throughput means providers could use it to offer services such as video and voice as well as broadband. Nextel Communications may use it to power a mobile phone that becomes a Wi-Fi cordless phone when the customer is at home or in the office.
Its most significant application could be in developing countries, where a wired infrastructure would become unnecessary for affordable broadband.
Telcos may not be willing to wait for WiMax to be proven before they jump on the wireless broadband bandwagon, however, with Nextel and Sprint have said they may go with proprietary systems instead of WiMax.
Intel pointed out that the WiMax Forum, the body shaping the standard, has only been active for about 18 months, noting that it has taken 10 years for Wi-Fi to take off. "The lesson the industry learned from Wi-Fi is that to make a standard successful, you need to get broad industry support, and get standards ratified," an Intel spokesman said.
The Alcatel deal marks a shift for Intel, which has previously only sold Intel architecture-based products such as servers to telecommunications equipment vendors. "WiMax opens up a whole new market for Intel," said the spokesman.
Intel is also partnering with Siemens on WiMax equipment.