Intel, Clearwire to work on WiMax together

Intel Corp. will work with Clearwire Corp., a wireless Internet service provider founded by cellular pioneer Craig McCaw, on future networks based on WiMax wireless broadband technology.

Clearwire aims to offer services based on the emerging IEEE 802.16e standard, a future version of WiMax that supports mobility, said Sean Maloney, executive vice-president and general manager of Intel’s Communications Group., in a Monday keynote address at the CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment trade show in San Francisco.

Equipment made by NextNet Wireless, a Clearwire subsidiary, and based on future Intel chips would power that service. Intel also will invest in Clearwire, Maloney and McCaw said. They did not provide financial details of the deal.

Intel has been heavily promoting WiMax, for which it is just beginning to roll out a first generation of processors designed for fixed wireless broadband. The Clearwire deal is a move to jumpstart the next generation of that technology, which Intel has said should be available in 2006. WiMax is a line of sight technology designed for data transmission over distances as great as 30 miles, at typical speeds of 300Kbps to 2Mbps, per customer, in its fixed-wireless form.

Despite standardization and the backing of Intel and a number of equipment providers, WiMax has not attracted a rollout commitment from a major U.S. service provider. That has been partly Intel’s fault, according to RHK Inc. analyst Tad Neeley. The company spent too much time pushing WiMax as a longer-range version of Wi-Fi, which runs on unlicensed spectrum, Neeley said. Carriers feared that could cannibalize their existing data services.

Although Intel and Clearwire took great pains to avoid labeling current 2.5G mobile phone networks as a competitor to WiMax, Intel’s Maloney pointed out that WiMax has a cost advantage over established networks because it was designed specifically for high-speed data networks.

The spectrum Clearwire is using for its services, called ITFS (Instructional Television Fixed Service) and originally intended for local educational broadcasting, won’t allow the carrier to deploy a service across the U.S., according to Neeley. It is a small portion of the MMDS (Multi-Multipoint Distribution Service) spectrum, most of which in the U.S. is controlled by Sprint Corp. and Nextel Communications Inc.

Sprint has not detailed plans for use of that spectrum. Nextel, meanwhile, has been working with Flarion Technologies Inc. on another wireless broadband technology called Flash Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (Flash-OFDM). That technology already supports mobile users, and it still could emerge a winner, Neeley said.

McCaw, who founded the early U.S. mobile carrier McCaw Cellular, expressed cautious optimism about the plan. It is critical to offer a technology that users are comfortable using and sell it at a low price per bit, he said.

“We’re tempered by the fact that everyone who has done it has failed,” McCaw said, referring to previous attempts to roll out broadband wireless technologies.

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