Intel, Sprint connect on WiMax

Companies will jointly test the emerging wireless broadband technology, which may serve as an alternative to cable and DSL. Photos: Welcoming the WiMax chip

Intel and Sprint plan to work together to develop an emerging wireless broadband technology called WiMax, which has been promoted as a third option to cable and digital subscriber line for providing high-speed Internet access into the home.

The companies announced their agreement Thursday, adding they will test equipment for performance and interoperability as they seek to determine whether providing wireless high-speed Internet access over multiple miles using WiMax is worthwhile.

WiMax chip

The technology behind the equipment will be based on 802.16e industry standards, which could help to drive down prices of equipment. If products based on those standards are found to be compatible, they will be marked with the WiMax logo.

Products based on the industry standards 802.11b, 802.11g and 802.11a--Wi-Fi standards--quickly fell in price, leading to fast uptake by consumers. Shipments of products using Wi-Fi technology have increased dramatically and quickly.

By using WiMax standards, companies are hoping prices for equipment will also come down quickly, allowing them to lower service costs and encourage the proliferation of wireless broadband service. However, WiMax has been heavily promoted as companies hope it will be the Wi-Fi of the broadband service industry. Service and equipment based on WiMax are not yet widely available but are expected to make it to market in 2006.

Intel benefited from that rapid growth with its Centrino mobile technology, which is made up of one of its mobile Pentium processors, a chipset and a Wi-Fi module. The chipmaker has been among the lead supporters of WiMax, and last month unveiled chipsets that support the technology.

Intel would sell the chips to equipment makers, which would then sell service-enabling equipment to service operators, such as Sprint. Operators would then make high-speed Internet service available to customers in much the same way they do it now with cable or DSL (digital subscriber line).

Intel and Sprint will work with a mobile specification of the WiMax technology, 802.16e, to enable wireless broadband access on portable devices. 802.16e is still awaiting standards approval by a key industry group, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE. Chips based on that standard aren't expected to be available until late 2006. The standard being used for fixed broadband access is 802.16-2004.

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