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Nokia, Intel push for WiMax this year

Can the world's biggest chipmaker and the world's biggest phone maker bring the wireless standard to the masses?

Mobile phone and network company Nokia and chip giant Intel said Friday they would step up their efforts to make WiMax a new standard in mobile broadband Internet access.

Intel has been the driving force behind WiMax, touting it as the long-distance broadband Internet sibling of Wi-Fi, to which the chipmaker gave key support with its Centrino chipsets for laptops.

The support of Nokia, which has not always been a WiMax believer, could be significant, given that the company is the world's biggest mobile phone maker and one of the leading wireless networks makers.

WiMax chip

Interestingly, Nokia sees WiMax demand from mobile telecommunications operators, for which the Finnish company is already building third-generation mobile phone networks with fast Web access.

"There is interest from operators. It's still too early to tell who and what, but we (Intel and Nokia) are making sure it is working," said Tero Ojanpera, Nokia's chief strategy officer.

"The key thing is to get the WiMax standard ready," he said, adding that despite the additional research efforts from Nokia, it will be toward the end of the year before there is an open standard that can be used by all chip and mobile device makers.

Instead of an overlap, Nokia now believes WiMax may be complementary to its third-generation mobile phone networks, and Nokia will make sure the WiMax base stations can sit peacefully alongside the cell phone base stations in radio masts.

"For instance, in hot zones," Ojanpera said in a telephone interview, referring to congested areas where the cell phone network would be quickly overloaded if many users started downloading film clips and making video calls.

In those areas, a dedicated Internet network such as WiMax would be more efficient in dealing with such data services.

By coming together, the biggest chipmaker and the biggest cell phone maker want to accelerate the development of the right energy-efficient chips both for mobile devices and for laptop computers, in addition to the base station chips.

Intel, which makes more than four out of every five personal computer processors, has been struggling to break into the cell phone market. Nokia, like all of the other major handset vendors, is no customer of its key baseband chips. The WiMax agreement may contribute to Nokia warming up to Intel.

"To have innovators like Nokia working to bring WiMax and other broadband wireless technologies to the masses is very encouraging," Sean Maloney, who leads Intel's Mobility Group, said in a statement.

Nokia and Intel are members of the WiMax Forum, which is an industry-led nonprofit corporation formed to promote and certify the compatibility and interoperability of WiMax technologies.

Nokia was a founding member, but it left the forum temporarily when it appeared that WiMax would only be a long-distance replacement for broadband Internet cables to fixed locations, such as rural villages that could not otherwise get broadband.

The company rejoined the forum last year when it emerged that a new variant of WiMax, dubbed 802.16e, would give consumers the opportunity to move around. The specifications for this standard still need to be approved by the forum. That's expected to happen late this year.

The mobile version of WiMax can be built into mobile devices such as those made by Nokia, alongside the cell phone chipsets.

Intel, in any case, plans to build WiMax chips into laptop chipsets, just like it started selling Wi-Fi chips as an integrated part of its Centrino chipsets two years ago.

Story Copyright © 2005 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.