Intel has announced volume shipments of its WiMax Rosedale chip.

Intel has put its marketing weight behind WiMax for years as standards development dragged on, but the chip giant is finally supporting the technology the way it knows best -churning out silicon.

Equipment vendors including Alvarion, Proxim, Redline and ZiMax have all announced agreements to use Intel silicon in products based on the IEEE 802.16-2004 standard that Rosedale deals with.

Some equipment vendors will also announce new products today using the chip. Redline will launch its RedMax line of customer premises equipment - a product with an outdoor antenna and an indoor box with connections for phone and broadband data service. It will cost less than $500.

Intel is not the first chipmaker to announce WiMax silicon, but it carries a lot of weight as both a high-volume chip leader and the rich uncle of the WiMax family, ready to put marketing dollars behind the technology.

Rosedale hitting the market marks a significant moment for WiMax, according to Michael Cai, an analyst at Parks Associates. "The industry is really looking at Intel, because it's been positioned as the leader in the WiMax space," he said.

The next major step for WiMax will be product certification and inter-operability testing by the WiMax Forum. Industry observers expect 802.16-2004 products, designed to deliver wireless broadband, to be tested by the forum in the summer and hit the market some time before the end of the year.

Rosedale is a "system on a chip" for customer premises devices that would send and receive data from a base station that could be several miles away. The chip includes a MAC (media access control) component for the IEEE 802.16-2004 standard, a "phy" (physical interface) element that uses OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing), an integrated 10/100Mbit/s Ethernet MAC for a home or office LAN, and a TDM (time-division multiplexing) controller interface to support voice and streaming data.

Opinions are mixed on the potential for fixed WiMax however. In many areas, it will compete against well-established DSL and cable modem services. Even Intel has said the larger opportunity lies in IEEE 802.16e, a standard still under development that will allow for WiMax services to mobile devices such as notebook PCs. That technology is expected to hit the market in 2007 or 2008.

For fixed WiMax customer devices such as those based on Rosedale to take off in the market, they will first have to go below $200 in total cost, said Philip Solis, an analyst at ABI Research. That isn't likely to happen for two to three years, in his view. However, service providers could shield subscribers from some or all of that cost through subsidies, he said.