WiMAX promises breakthrough in broadband access

IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

A new wireless networking technology, called WiMAX, is poised to reshape the way that service providers offer broadband Internet access in the U.S. and other countries, holding out the promise that high-speed network services may take off in these markets, according to a senior Intel Corp. executive.

WiMAX, also known as 802.16a, is a wireless networking standard that offers greater range and bandwidth than the Wi-Fi family of standards, which includes 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g. While Wi-Fi is intended to provide coverage over relatively small areas, such as in offices or hotspots, WiMAX can transfer around 70 Mbps (bits per second) over a distance of 30 miles (48 kilometers) to thousands of users from a single base station.

By comparison, the most commonly used flavor of Wi-Fi, 802.11b, can transfer data at speeds up to 11 Mbps over ranges up to 1,000 feet in open areas.

The greater range and higher bandwidth of WiMAX gives service providers the ability to offer broadband Internet access directly to homes without having to worry about the problems that can arise when laying down a physical connection over the so-called "last mile," which connects homes with service providers' main networks, according to Anand Chandrasekher, vice president and general manager of Intel's Mobile Platforms Group.

"WiMAX is a very effective replacement for the last mile for broadband," Chandrasekher said in an interview Monday.

Besides making it easier to offer broadband services, WiMAX can help service providers cut the costs associated with installing broadband Internet connections.

"For a service provider to provide broadband, it costs them about US$400 in just getting the truck out there, doing the installation," Chandrasekher said.

On average, installing a single broadband connections requires about 20 minutes, Chandrasekher said. However, in a worst-case scenario that time can stretch to as long as two hours, increasing the installation costs for the service provider and wiping out its profits in the process, he said.

"WiMAX would eliminate that because with WiMAX you'd be able to broadcast the broadband capabilities and in the home environment you could have an access point," Chandrasekher said.

WiMAX-based products are not currently available. The standard was finalized in January of this year and commercial products aren't expected until sometime in 2005, according to information released by Intel on Monday at the Intel Developer Forum in Taipei.

For its part, Intel wants to be one of the first companies to get WiMAX-based products into the market. The company has announced plans to start production of chips that can be used in WiMAX-based equipment during the second half of next year. With service provider trials set to begin next year, Intel expects WiMAX products to be commercially available in 2005.

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