Motorola Inc. is jumping headfirst into a yet-to-be-standardized version of the broadband wireless technology known as WiMax.
The technology road map for WiMax calls for two flavors: one for fixed wireless and one for mobile. The fixed version, known as 802.16d, is meant to be a replacement for broadband cable access or DSL.
While that version is already ratified, the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) has yet to ratify the mobile WiMax standard, known as 802.16e, which will allow for roaming among base stations.
Motorola is bullish on the mobile version.
"Weve made the decision to skip [802.16d]," said Paul Sergeant, a spokesperson for Motorola, in Schaumburg, Ill. "We think rev e outperforms rev d even in a fixed environment."
802.16e is due for ratification by the end of this year, but products are not expected to hit the market until 2007. To that end, Motorola plans an initial release of prestandard products, officials said.
In the second quarter of next year, the company plans to release both outdoor and indoor equipment based on proprietary mobile broadband technology. From there, the company will develop ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits) based on the ratified standard.
"Fixed access is really the domain of 802.11 [Wi-Fi]," said Brad Noblet, director of technical services at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, N.H. "Its already established and would be hard to change. High-speed mobile is still the Holy Grail."
By the middle of 2007, Motorola will have developed a gateway that can support Wi-Fi with a WiMax backhaul, company officials said. Motorola also has plans for several large-screen mobile phones that will support a combination of WiMax, Wi-Fi and a variety of cellular technologies.
Motorola officials said that the companys initial WiMax products will run in the 3.5GHz band, which is common in many parts of the world but is not yet licensed for commercial use in the United States. The WiMax-appropriate spectrum available in the United States is in the licensed 2.5GHz and license-exempt 5.8GHz bands.
Motorola plans to follow up with products that run in the 2.5GHz band, conducting trials with Sprint Nextel Corp. in the second half of next year; Sprint Nextel controls the majority of that band in the United States. Officials at both companies have made it clear that a commitment to trials does not mean a commitment to commercial deployments.
However, federal regulations may boost WiMax deployments.
As a condition of approving the recent merger between Sprint and Nextel, the Federal Communications Commission has required the merged company to begin offering service in the 2.5GHz band to at least 15 million Americans within the next four years and to 15 million more within six years.