Rosedale chips fuel Intel’s WiMax drive

Intel Corp. expects its first-generation WiMax chips to spawn devices for wireless broadband end users that cost less than US$200 and won’t require a visit by a service provider, a company executive said Tuesday.

The chips, code-named Rosedale and now shipping to key system makers in sample quantities, will support long-range services that can penetrate the outer wall of a home or office, so customers should be able to install the client equipment themselves, said Scott Richardson, general manager of Intel’s broadband wireless group, in a speech at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco. The chips were announced earlier Tuesday at ITU Telecom Asia, in Busan, South Korea.

The system makers now getting Rosedale samples will build them into test devices over the next six to nine months and roll out their equipment to end users next year, Richardson said.

WiMax is designed to provide wireless data at speeds comparable to wired broadband in a neighborhood or across a rural region with a reach as long as 30 miles (48 kilometres). The first generation coming next year, based on the IEEE 802.16-2004 standard, is intended to take the place of cable modem or DSL (digital subscriber line) services in a fixed location. Carriers will be able to deploy base stations that deliver about 70Mbps for customers to share, Richardson said.

Another standard under development, known as IEEE 802.16e, should lead to services in 2006 that a user will be able to access from multiple locations around a metropolitan area, Richardson said. True mobility comes in 2007, when Intel expects to deliver WiMax chips that fit in cell phones and can be used with services that hand off the user from one base station to another. Nevertheless, Intel expects WiMax to complement both Wi-Fi and 3G (third-generation) cellular mobile data services, he said.

Broadband wireless has been held back by numerous issues, including equipment cost and the need for a “truck roll” by the carrier to ensure a direct line of sight from the service provider’s tower to the customer’s home or office. The standards-based Rosedale technology will help eliminate those problems and drive the cost of client gear down below US$200 from the US$350 to US$500 cost of current proprietary systems, according to Richardson.

Intel believes price declines will ultimately take WiMax hardware down to Wi-Fi prices. Some analysts and industry participants have voiced doubts, citing the special requirements of carriers and the broad range of radio frequencies that may be used by WiMax, but Richardson stood by the mantra. WiMax could meet the price of Wi-Fi within two years, he said.

The key, according to Richardson, is emerging radio chips that can support multiple frequencies.

“If you count up all the pieces and you include a multiband radio, we don’t see any reason why we can’t approach Wi-Fi in terms of price points,” he said in an interview following his address.

WiMax is likely to be delivered over several frequencies, but initially on the licensed 2.5GHz and 3.5GHz ranges and the unlicensed 5GHz spectrum also used by IEEE 802.11a Wi-Fi networks, Richardson said. With Rosedale, Intel will turn to third parties for the accompanying radio chips, but the company is looking at making WiMax radio chips itself in the future, he said. In July, the company showed off a WiMax radio chip from its lab that Intel officials said could also support other wireless technologies at the same time.

Rosedale can be used both for indoor, customer-installed equipment and gear with outdoor antennas. In developed markets such as North America and Europe, the indoor gear may bring broadband to less populated regions not served by cable or DSL. WiMax may play an even more critical role in less developed countries, where in some cases no wired broadband is available. In those countries, if the cost of a truck roll is lower, carriers may install customer equipment with outdoor antennas. That will let them deploy fewer base stations, because they can reach the outdoor antennas from farther away, he said.

Intel Developer Forum continues through Thursday.

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