By Carmen Nobel  |  Posted 2005-05-30 Print this article Print

-Gen Cellular Technologies Compete"> The mobile version of WiMax, 802.16e, is where the U.S. market lies, according to Intel and Forum officials. But the IEEE has yet to ratify the standard; ratification is expected by years end. Initial products may hit the market in 2007, although many analysts say 2008 is more likely.

"802.16e is going to take a little while," said Intels Peck. "But were bullish on 802.16e because, while the standard isnt done, its done enough that the silicon starts have occurred. Well see interoperability testing in the second half of 06, and well go from there."

"802.16e allows for a much bigger play," said the Forums Resnick. "It means you can have WiMax systems in a portable or mobile-usage model. We believe that long term there could be a concept of personal broadband, people communicating with you via broadband over cell phones. Thats a vision. Its a logical vision."

Prospective WiMax equipment providers are more cautious about the vision, primarily because of cost.

"It may happen at some point in the future, but I dont think its going to happen in the short term," said Nortels Whitton. "It took Wi-Fi four or five years before it was inexpensive enough to get into laptops."

WiMax chip sets are not likely to fall below $20 before 2010, according to a recent study from West Technology Research Solutions LLC, in Mountain View, Calif.

Furthermore, as the industry pushes WiMax along, carriers are also testing next-generation cellular technologies that may well compete against it. Sprint Corp.—which will own most of the 2.5GHz spectrum in the country once it merges with Nextel Communications Inc.—is planning high-speed upgrades to the CDMA-EvDO (Evolution Data Optimized) network. Cingular Wireless, in conjunction with Siemens, is testing a high-speed technology called HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access), which is related to UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System).

"While 802.16e promises to be a big market, it is faced with stiff competition from upgrades to existing installed options such as EvDO and eventually UMTS," said Kirsten West, an analyst at West Technology Research Solutions.

"From the perspective of the Sprints and Verizons [Verizon Communications Inc.] of the world," West said, "there is little driving them to integrate 802.16e and incur its associated infrastructure costs when the alternative is an upgrade to EvDO that can be done today—and, in fact, is already in trials in several areas across the U.S., with an infrastructure cost that is little more than a software upgrade to the tower in most cases and at worst the addition of a computer board."

In May, Intel announced plans with Sprint to collaborate on equipment trials and business cases for 802.16e. But Sprint officials warned against counting on WiMax definitively.

"Well probably start to see initial test equipment in the first part of next year, and from there it could be into 07 or 08 before we started to see any mass deployment, but I want to stay away from sticking to any of those time frames," said Len Barlik, vice president of technology and development at Sprint, in Kansas City, Mo.

"We have not made a decision for a full deployment," Barlik said. "Were in the investigation phase."

Thus, some customers believe there are safer bets than WiMax.

"At present, we believe that past failures suggest that a twofold strategy is most prudent—implement 802.11g for our 2 million square feet of in-hospital coverage and use GSM/GPRS [Global System for Mobile Communications/ General Packet Radio Service] for data transfers outside the hospital, hoping that a 3G technology will enable faster bandwidth over time," said John Halamka, CIO of Harvard Medical School and CareGroup Healthcare System, a Boston-area hospital group.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.


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