By Thor Olavsrud
July 9, 2003
Seeking to carve out the nascent market for a chipset that can fulfill the promise of “last mile” delivery of wireless broadband, Intel Wednesday pledged to develop a silicon product based on the IEEE 802.16 WirelessMAN (Metropolitan Area Network) standard.
Intel said it expects equipment based on its chips to have a range of up to 30 miles and the ability to transfer data, voice and video at speeds of up to 70 Mbps.
The 802.16a standard, approved by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in January, opened the door for the creation of fixed Broadband Wireless Access (BWA), which could provide network access support to buildings with speeds that approach those offered by high-speed fiber optic networks. The 802.16a technology is sometimes referred to as WiMAX, after the industry consortium formed in April to support it and certify equipment based on it.
Although the 802.16a standard is seen as a viable new specification for wireless networking, it is too early to tell if it could ever approach the kind of critical mass of its 802.11b cousin, now known as the popular Wi-Fi protocol. But one expectation is that 802.16 MANs could eventually anchor 802.11 hot-spots, which serve as wireless local area networks (LANs), as well as servicing end-users directly.
“We believe that WiMAX will be the catalyst for growth of the broadband wireless access market, similar to the impact Wi-Fi had on the Wireless LAN market,” said Zvi Slonimsky, CEO of Alvarion, a specialist in BWA last mile equipment which has partnered with Intel to deliver WiMAX-Certified equipment based on the Intel 802.16a silicon. “Without the 802.16a standard, equipment makers have to make everything themselves, including the fundamental silicon, the customer premise equipment, the base station and the network management software. With the standard, equipment makers can innovate in the areas where they excel most, resulting in dramatic industry price/performance gains.”
While fiber is plentiful on the backbone, it is much more rarified at the network access level. According to IEEE, less than 5 percent of commercial structures worldwide are served by fiber networks, largely due to the expense and time involved in extending the fiber. The hope for 802.16, and one Intel is attempting to capitalize on with the development of the new silicon, is to open the doors for thousands of users to share capacity for data, voice and video, while giving carriers a scalable solution that they can easily grow as subscribers demand more bandwidth.
In the 802.16 vision, carriers would set up base stations connected to a public network. Each base station would support hundreds of fixed subscriber stations, probably mounted on rooftops. The base stations would then use the standard’s medium access control layer (MAC) — a common interface that makes the networks interoperable — to nearly instantaneously allocate uplink and downlink bandwidth to subscribers according to their needs.
“Intel is committed to enabling computing and communications anytime, anywhere over any device, and we see WiMAX as a critical technology for making that vision a reality,” said Sean Maloney, executive vice president and general manager for the Intel Communications Group. “Our silicon products for WiMAX equipment will complement existing Intel wireless building blocks including Intel Centrino mobile technology for wireless notebooks, Intel PRO/Wireless network connections, and Intel IXP4XX network processors for wireless infrastructure equipment.”