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Wireless Broadband Rallies On Reach Of WiMax

WASHINGTON — The once-ailing broadband wireless industry has become a new front in the drive toward ubiquitous broadband access, complete with voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) and other data services, through low-cost last-mile pipes for both homes and businesses.

This technology has been energized by WiMax, which is now seen as a high-speed data overlay for metropolitan areas, as well as the original target of rural deployments and developing countries. In metro applications, it will lie between 3G cellular and Wi-Fi hotspots while also filling the gaps in DSL and cable coverage in urban and suburban areas, said experts at the Wireless Communications Association (WCA) International conference here last week.

"We want to enable communications devices on the go, and we believe this can only come about through standards that will in turn get costs down," said Scott Richardson, general manager of the Broadband Wireless Division at Intel Corp., one of the companies driving WiMax. Richardson reaffirmed Intel's plan to put WiMax in laptops by 2006.

The cost of customer-premises equipment "has been the Achilles' heel of broadband wireless," said Jeff Thompson, president and COO of TowerStream, a broadband wireless operator based in Middletown, R.I. "It has to come down to $200 to $300 " from $700 [today]. The combination of Wi-Fi and WiMax will be great."

To hit a cost of $200, conference chairman and WiMax Forum president Ron Resnick, the director of marketing for Intel's Broadband Wireless Division, promised standards-based silicon before year's end. Interoperability tests will follow in January and certified equipment by mid-2005, he said. "That will be for fixed equipment, with in-building equipment by the second half of 2005." Zvi Slonimsky, president of equipment vendor Alvarion, predicted the WiMax market will hit $2.5 billion in 2008.

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