Intel has been outlining its progress in getting 802.16 (WiMax) hardware out to market, and has predicted that BT will be offering wide area wireless internet access services in the UK by next year.
Sean Maloney, head of Intel's mobility group, told vnunet.com that 802.16d WiMax chipsets are now shipping, and that enhanced 802.16e equipment will arrive shortly. WiMax offers connection speeds comparable with DSL but via wireless transmission.
"BT will get production equipment by the second half of this year," he said. "BT is one of the most aggressive companies in the WiMax Forum, and I'd expect to see services within 18 months."
Maloney added that laptops capable of picking up WiMax would be available from 2006, and that Wi-Fi and WiMax could be combined in a single chipset by 2008/9. By then volume production will bring the component cost of WiMax down to around $25.
Members of the WiMax Forum are trying to persuade governments to assign spectrum allocations for the WiMax services. The spectrums currently favoured are 2.5GHz and 3.5GHz, although the 700MHz spectrum currently used by analogue TV has also been mentioned.
The higher the frequency the less pervasive WiMax services will be. Maloney said that 2.5GHz would provide the ability to pick up signals through multiple walls, and that work was being done to improve connections at 3.5GHz.
Whatever the final decision the UK government could be in for a major cash injection when it auctions off the spectrum.
"Spectrum is selling well again [and is] back up to the prices of the mid 1990s," said Maloney.
"It feels like 2001 again when we were doing the same thing for Wi-Fi. We've been going around the US Federal Communications Commission, Brussels and Beijing arguing for as much spectrum as possible."
He also promised that, although WiMax standards are still developing, kit would be interoperable. 802.16d is the current standard while 802.16e, due out in the coming years, has a lot more functionality.
The two could both be used to pick up WiMax signals but Maloney estimated that the bulk of equipment would standardise on the 802.16e platform as soon as possible.
With regards to the competition, Maloney damned 3G services with faint praise. "3G has a future but it's a fragmented technology with no global standard," he claimed.
"It's not designed for high bandwidth applications but there'll always be a market for voice and medium speed data services."
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