WiMax Gets Real

Intel, Proxim development plans aid protocol's credibility.

Intel Corp. and Proxim Inc. are lending further credence to WiMax with significant co-development plans for the emerging wireless broadband standard.

The two companies are co-developing base station and subscriber unit architectures that support WiMax, which is based on the IEEE 802.16 protocol and promises speeds approaching those of Fast Ethernet. Intel is licensing Proxim software, and Proxim plans to use Intel silicon in future WiMax systems, which are expected to be expensive initially but achieve costs similar to Wi-Fi WLAN (wireless LAN) products eventually.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read Steven Vaughn-Nichols take on WiMaxs future.

Still, even Proxim officials acknowledged that the technology has been overpublicized to the point of confusion, as has happened with various wireless protocols in the past. "I think some expectations have been raised too high," said Kevin Duffy, chief operating officer of Proxim, in Sunnyvale, Calif. "I wouldnt put it at the Bluetooth level, but I think the timetables have been overhyped. Its really next year and the year after."

One confusing issue with WiMax is that there is more than one version of 802.16 and more than one usage model.

802.16a, which came first, loosely defined rules for fixed wireless transmission in the 2GHz-to-11GHz frequency range. Next came 802.16d, which fixed some of the errata in the 802.16a standard. Intel and Proxims initial products will be based on 802.16d, which promises average speeds ranging from 15 to 70M bps, with non-line-of-sight distances of 2 to 5 kilometers and line-of-sight distances of up to 50 km.

As a fixed wireless technology, 802.16d essentially competes with DSL, cable and other high-speed land-line technologies. This month, The Management Network Group Inc. (or TMNG) and Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc. released a study that found that fixed WiMax "should not dislodge or disrupt existing broadband service in urban and suburban areas, but it could be attractive in less competitive areas, for example, rural geographies."

"The point-to-point wireless space isnt a huge space yet," said Abner Germanow, an analyst at IDC, in Framingham, Mass. "Today, Proxim is one of the largest players in it, so it makes sense for Intel [to team up]. The number of opportunities that Intel has isnt huge."

Next page: Domestic carriers slow to commit.