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Intel teams with wireless gear maker

The chipmaker joins forces with Alvarion, a manufacturer of broadband wireless equipment, to develop products based the emerging WiMax standard.

Intel and manufacturer Alvarion are connecting the dots for wireless broadband access by developing products meant to solve the issue of the "last mile."

Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker Intel announced Wednesday it is working with Alvarion, a maker of broadband wireless equipment, to develop wireless products based on the emerging 802.16a, also known as WiMax, standard.

, or Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, is now touted as a broadband wireless access alternative to cable, digital subscriber line (DSL) and other last-mile methods for reaching customers.

"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," Zvi Slonimsky, CEO of Alvarion, said in a statement.

The initial push for WiMax comes from high-speed networking companies that want to expand into areas such as rural districts or sparsely populated areas, where it's not economically feasible to build DSL or cable networks. The high costs of such construction have kept providers out of many rural areas, according to industry trade group DSL Forum.

The new wireless standard is viewed as a complement to 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g (also known as Wi-Fi), with WiMax acting as the main pipeline for Internet access and Wi-Fi handling the sharing of network resources at the end.

"As ever in wireless, the capabilities of technologies overlap," said Sean Maloney, an executive vice president at Intel. "But WiMax products will mainly be for carriers. It's not a Wi-Fi replacement."

Maloney added that Wi-Fi has so much momentum behind it already, and such a head start in innovation, that to challenge it would be difficult for any wireless technology.

Networks based on the 802.16a standard are expected to have a range up to 30 miles and the ability to transfer data, voice and video at speeds of up to 70 megabits per second. Products based on 802.16a promise to provide wireless broadband connectivity to businesses with guaranteed levels of service required for enterprise applications.

Maloney said the agreement with Alvarion, based in Tel Aviv, Israel, is nonexclusive and that Intel is talking with other product makers. Hardware using Intel WiMax chips will likely be available in the second half of next year, according to Maloney.

The IEEE 802.16a standard was approved in January of this year. Since then, over 25 leading communications equipment companies have joined the nonprofit WiMax Forum to help promote and certify the compatibility and interoperability of 802.16a equipment.

In late April, component and equipment makers including Intel, Nokia and Fujitsu Microelectronics America had announced that they were working to help promote WiMax and to handle the certification of equipment compatibility and interoperability in wirelessly accessing high-speed broadband connections.

In related news, Intel, Bell Canada and VIA Rail Canada announced Wednesday a test program that will equip VIA train cars traveling between Montreal and Toronto with wireless Internet access.

The four-month program will allow passengers using notebook computers and handheld devices with Wi-Fi capabilities to wirelessly connect to a network and will let them access the Internet, check e-mail and connect to corporate networks.

Intel is providing the networking technology to connect to the Bell Canada cellular service, which wirelessly connects to the Internet.

CNET News.com's Richard Shim contributed to this report.