Intel pushes WiMax around the globe

A new $1.12 billion contract in Taiwan and new networks in 23 other countries bolster the chipmaker's wireless vision.

Intel on Wednesday announced a slew of new investments that build on its global vision of wireless networks over citywide areas, a setup also known as WiMax.

The chipmaking giant said it signed a $1.12 billion contract for the M-Taiwan (Mobilize Taiwan) project as part of a joint effort with Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs.

As part of their collaboration, Taiwan's government will set directions for spectrum allocation for WiMax--the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' 802.16e standard that provides specifications for both fixed and wireless broadband applications. The ministry is expected to help with WiMax field trials through 2008 and support businesses that would like to participate in the eventual rollout.

"The chance that Taiwan has to lead in this space is now excellent," said Sean Maloney, head of Intel's Mobility Group.

The Taiwan partnership is but one of several aspirations for WiMax that Intel has secured in the month.

The company announced that it has 13 new WiMax installations available in Europe, South America and North Asia, with 10 more Intel-sponsored networks due by year's end. Companies such as Airspan, Alcatel, Alvarion and Redline Communications are helping with the installations.

The network equipment is based on the Intel PRO/Wireless 5116 broadband interface processor. Previously known as Rosedale, the chip is designed for wireless modems and residential gateways. Intel plans to introduce WiMax-enabled chips for desktops and laptops in 2007 or 2008.

Countries including France, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Spain, Ireland, Poland, Finland, Guatemala, Ukraine, Austria and Slovakia are all either in the testing phase or using WiMax networks for a variety of uses, from basic high-speed access for homes to Internet telephony, as well as connecting businesses, schools and government offices.

For example, Voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP, services are being offered by BEC Telecom beginning in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and spreading to the rest of the country. Wi-Max Telecom is offering VoIP services to home users in Burganland, Austria, Intel said.

Halfway around the world, Intel also announced the formation of its Asian Broadband Campaign, which aims to build more WiMax wireless broadband networks in Southeast Asia. The company said it will work with governments, telecommunications regulators, public-sector agencies and carriers to offer consulting and technical services.

WiMax trials in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines are expected to start by the end of 2005, Intel said. Trials in Indonesia and Vietnam are expected to take place in 2006.

Intel touts WiMax as a last-mile alternative for remote areas not currently served by DSL (digital subscriber line) or cable, as well as a way to make it possible to wirelessly connect buildings located up to several miles apart.

While Wi-Fi's range is measured in meters, WiMax's range is measured in miles, offering a handy way to link entire neighborhoods or rural communities. In the perfectly ideal situation of line-of-sight to a base station, WiMax is designed to work at distances of up to 31 miles.

The spread of WiMax networks has gotten wide industry support. Besides Intel, Cisco, Motorola, AT&T, Sprint Nextel, Nortel Networks, Fujitsu Microelectronics and Samsung, to name a few, are supporting 802.16 as a standard.

Despite its momentum, however, WiMax still has a long way to go, and it may yet falter in the marketplace. Sky-high expectations for wireless broadband services are not new, but neither are disappointments. History is pockmarked with dramatic wireless failures, such as those of Ricochet Networks and MobileStar.