Intel readies flexible WiMax chipset

Intel's next-generation WiMax chipset will be software upgradable for mobile use.

Intel's next-generation chipset for WiMax devices will support either fixed or mobile versions of the wireless broadband technology, and all the equipment vendors that have adopted the company's current product plan to use the new one, Intel said Monday.

WiMax is designed to deliver speeds comparable to wired broadband over distances of several miles or more. A version designed for stationary use is already on the market, and the WiMax Forum is expected to start certifying products next year that let users stay connected while moving. The mobile standard, called IEEE 802.16e-2005, is already completed.

Code-named Rosedale 2, the new chipset is shipping in sample quantities so equipment makers can develop products while Intel continues its own testing, said Yung Hahn, general manager of Intel's WiMax products division. He expects the chipset to ship in volume starting in December.

Intel has been a major backer of WiMax, often comparing it to Wi-Fi as a technology that can proliferate through standardized high-volume chip production and subsequent price declines. Earlier this month it provided US$600 million of a US$900 million funding round for Clearwire, which plans a nationwide mobile WiMax service. Rosedale 2 and Intel's current fixed-WiMax chipset, introduced last year, form the guts of WiMax modems.

Mobility will be key to WiMax's success, in Intel's view. The company aims to reduce risk and costs for equipment makers by providing an easy upgrade path from fixed to mobile, Hahn said. Rosedale 2 can be changed from fixed to mobile mode through a software upgrade and could even be modified by a service provider over the air, he said.

Ten device vendors have now chosen Rosedale 2, according to Intel. They include nine customers of the current Intel Pro/Wireless 5116 fixed WiMax chipset, such as Alvarion, Aperto Networks, and Proxim Wireless, as well as Navini Networks, which is focused on mobile WiMax. Alcatel also plans to use Rosedale 2.

In addition to making chipsets for discrete customer gateway boxes, Intel plans eventually to introduce a PC Card modem for notebook PCs and a single-chip multiband radio for both WiMax and Wi-Fi.

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