| SAN FRANCISCO
SAN FRANCISCO Aug 22 Backers of WiMax are
increasingly confident that their billions of dollars invested
in the emerging high-speed wireless technology will pay off
within the next couple of years.
WiMax allows connections over long distances, making
blanket coverage over a metropolitan area more possible than
with Wireless Fidelity, or Wi-Fi, the familiar and popular
standard used to connect to networks over short distances.
Intel Corp (INTC.O), the world's largest microprocessor
maker, has been working on the technology for years with the
aim of convincing PC makers to build it into their notebooks.
Both the chips for notebook computers and the computers
themselves typically have fatter margins.
"This changes the way people use the laptop," said Sriram
Viswanathan, who heads up Intel's WiMax efforts. "It changes
the business model for us. People will start seeing the laptop
as an always-on, always-connected device."
Now other large players have joined Intel and laid down big
bets, including Web search giant Google Inc. and Sprint Nextel
Corp (S.N)., the No. 3 U.S. wireless carrier, as well as
smaller wireless provider Clearwire Corp. CLWR.O, founded by
mobile pioneer Craig McCaw.
Google (GOOG.O) last month inked a deal with Sprint to
build services that run on the carrier's WiMax network. And
Sprint plans to spend as much as $5 billion on its WiMax
network by 2010 and expects $5 billion in revenue a year later.
Together, Clearwire and Sprint expect to be able to offer
customers access to a network covering 100 million people by
the end of next year, as the cost of putting WiMax networks in
place is coming down and will spur competition among service
"Over the next 12-to-24 months you're going to see a number
of these operators that are now in trial mode and evaluating
WiMax make the decision to do a nationwide or large-scale
deployment," said Viswanathan.
Viswanathan said he expects WiMax to take off first in
mature economies such as Western Europe, the United States, and
South Korea. Deployment in other regions such as India, Latin
America, and China where there are already some networks that
could be adapted to WiMax would follow.
"If you look at it that way, it's been around for a while,"
said Godfrey Chua, an analyst at market research firm IDC. "In
the Philippines there's a nationwide fixed broadband wireless
network up and running but it's not WiMax certified."
Many of those so-called pre-WiMax networks use a technology
standard called 802.16d, which is designed for connecting
things -- such as laptops -- that aren't moving around, unlike
a later standard, 802.16e, which is what Sprint and Clearwire
"Because of the value of mobility, most of the equipment
sold is going to be 16e," said Charles Golvin, a principal
analyst at market research firm Forrester Research. "The Sprint
and Clearwire agreement is still the largest commitment to that
we've yet seen."
'WiFi ON STEROIDS'
Intel's WiMax platform will launch next year, the executive
said, and PC makers such as Hewlett-Packard (HPQ.N), Lenovo
(0992.HK) LNX.N, Dell DELL.O and others would then be
selling notebooks with the technology already built in.
"What WiMax is trying to do is give people a broadband
wireless connection while you're on the move and not just in a
public hot spot," Viswanathan said. "Think of it as WiFi on
WiMax won't necessarily displace WiFi, analysts said.
Rather, the two technologies would complement one another.
"WiFi will serve lower- to mid-tier subscribers," Chua
said, noting that WiMax would compete more with DSL and Cable
high-speed access. "WiMax is able to deliver broader coverage
and better security."
Also the costs to deploy a WiMax network have declined
considerably, compared to other technologies, Chua said, to
around a couple of hundreds dollars per subscriber. Ten years
ago, satellite telephone service would cost operators about
$15,000 per subscriber, he said.
"The key development really has to do with improvements in
performance and in cost," Chua said.