xMax Becomes Quiet Competitor

By Ed Sutherland

July 11, 2005

This new proprietary wireless technology looks to take on UWB, WiMax and more all at once by using portions of seldom used, noisy radio frequencies for high throughput.

Imagine watching cable while silently receiving a broadband Internet connection or using VoIP applications as your pager works—all from the same pipe. While much of wireless is blasting out a signal heard next door or down the street, a small Florida company thinks it could quietly compete with UWB, Bluetooth—even WiMax.

xMax, a 900MHz wireless technology using less than 1 Watt of power, is touting itself as a low-powered alternative to traditional fixed wireless for delivering a myriad of broadband services, according to xG Technology of Sarasota, Florida. What makes xMax unique is its sharing of crowded radio spectrum, such as the frequencies used by cable television or Wi-Fi.

While only in its initial stages now, a finished xMax product should be in the hands of wireless equipment manufacturers by mid-2006, says Chris Whitely, xG program manager.

How it Works

Rather than an FM radio station broadcasting only radio programs or cable providers only broadcasting television, xMax would take advantage of the unused portion of the signal to also transmit data. This recycling or repurposing of spectrum is key to the new technology, according to its inventor, Joseph Bobier.

"xMax's unique signal profile is a perfect fit for low frequency channels that have previously been unsuitable for wireless broadband," said Bobier.

Because the sub-gigahertz spectrum has been chopped into multiple narrowband segments, it largely has been ignored by most wireless companies seeking roomier space for broadband transmissions. xMax separates the data and a signal synchronizing receiver and sender into two narrowband channels. Due to the low power level needed, the signals do not interfere with other spectrum users, says Whitely.

In order to pick up the very weak signal, a filter must be added to an off-the-shelf antenna, allowing the broadband data to be "heard."

Possible Uses

xMax has a variety of potential markets, according to Whitely. The technology will benefit rural ISPs due to the lower number of base stations required. Bobier expects to see up to a 500 percent increase in range.

xMax, because it has 20 times the range of Bluetooth, could challenge that technology. Other possibilities are enterprise WLANs and metropolitan networks.

The first commercial introduction of xMax will come in the form of a wireless base station, according to xG.

After running an initial test using pager spectrum in May, the company plans a follow-up public demonstration of xMax in September. The demonstration will use one base station to span Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

A reference design will be available in November, when the company officially makes the technology public.

Project Sunshine

xMax owner xG Technology, while five years old, is just now coming out of 'stealth mode,' according to Whitely. The reason for the delay? The company wanted to ensure it had "a critical mass of patents" surrounding the system. "We didn't want someone to come out with a blocking" patent, says Whitely.

Codenamed "sunshine," the technology was first used on some pager spectrum picked up for around $1,000, says Whitely. With xMax, the channel "behaved like a multi-million dollar network," he claims.

While xMax relies on proprietary technology, the company isn't worried. "It offers such a cost savings, OEMs will consider it," says Whitely.

Chips for xMax devices should cost between $5 and $6 in volume with base stations priced at around $350,000, according to news reports.

Even before the September public trial, chip makers have expressed interest in the technology, according to Whitely.

He isn't sure he'd call xMax a WiMax competitor, however. xMax "could be a competitor or solution to WiMax," he says, but he feels the success of WiMax is part of any successful strategy for xMax. If carriers go ahead and order WiMax products, only to see the technology not live up to its hype, they will turn to xMax as an alternative. However, if WiMax fails, the result could be a downturn in investor confidence and harm for the future of xG's new technology.



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