Analysts: Beware of Hype for Fixed Broadband with WiMax

The standards-based Intel PRO/Wireless 5116 chip set may help the growth of WiMax, but analysts caution that no products are expected to be certified before the end of this year.

Intel this week announced the availability of its first WiMax product, giving that much more credence to the nascent wireless protocol. But analysts caution that the technology is still more marketing hype than reality.

Previously code-named Rosedale, the Intel PRO/Wireless 5116 chip set is based on the 802.16-2004 standard, which is based on fixed-broadband wireless connectivity—an alternative to cable or DSL.

While fixed wireless service efforts from carriers have failed in the past, Intel Corp. officials said they expect this one to succeed because it is standards-based.

Intels marketing arm should help too, according to industry observers who pointed out that Intels publicity for its Centrino Wi-Fi chip set last year helped propel the ubiquity of Wi-Fi.

"The chip set may be successful if Intel applies the same kinds of pressure they applied to get Centrino adoption," said Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at Gartner Inc. in San Jose, Calif. "Namely: money given to OEMs via marketing incentives, which help to offset costs."

Several hardware manufacturers have announced plans for Rosedale, including Airspan Networks Inc., Alvarion Ltd., Proxim Corp. and Siemens AGs mobile division.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read more about Intels early WiMax deployment.

Intel also has teamed up with several carriers on WiMax trials worldwide, including AT&T Corp., British Telecom Plc., Qwest Communications International Inc., Iberbanda and TowerStream Corp.

Meanwhile, Wi-LAN Inc. and Fujitsu Ltd. on Thursday plan to introduce a WiMax system on a chip, which Wi-LAN plans to include in its Libra MX base stations by the end of the year, according to officials at Wi-LAN in Calgary, Alberta, who said they are targeting developing countries where cable and DSL are not readily available.

But industry officials acknowledge that WiMax is not exactly around the corner. The WiMax Forum, which is the official WiMax certification body, is not expected to certify its first products until the end of the year. And, according to documents on its Web site, it is giving first certification dibs to products that run in the 3.5GHz band, which is popular overseas but is not even licensed for use in the United States.

/zimages/1/28571.gifTo read Ann Suns commentary on the relationship of WiMax to current wireless broadband technologies, click here.

That said, WiMax hopefuls already are turning their attention to 802.16e, a mobile version of WiMax, and a sort of miles-long-range version of Wi-Fi, which does not require the line of sight that 802.16-2004 requires. The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) has yet to ratify 802.16e, but Intel officials said they have tentative plans to include 802.16e chips in notebook computers by 2007.

"The longer-term, bigger market impact will indeed come through e," said Jouni Forsman, also an analyst at Gartner. "Not as mobile as cellular, but higher bandwidth at a lower cost, and to devices with bigger screens."

Potential customers say that 802.16e will be a welcome improvement to cellular and even Wi-Fi for high-bandwidth applications.

"We have tried to do wireless video from a laptop to a video projector, but it hasnt given us satisfactory results so far," said Kevin Baradet, chief technology officer of the Johnson School of Management at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "When WiMax is stable and out, Im planning on giving it a try for video."

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