Beceem Gets MS Stamp
Issued by the Windows Hardware Quality Lab in Redmond, Wash. and going by the unfortunate moniker "WHQL certification" (pronounced "whickle"), the approval is the first for a WiMax chip vendor, according to Beceem president and co-founder Babu Mandava, and it assures equipment vendors and operators that their WiMax products will not interfere with Windows' operation, giving WiMax connectivity a clear field in the vast Windows-based computing environment.
"It's a significant step in driving the industry ahead," says Beceem vice president for business development Lars Johnsson. "We're now ready for the upcoming deployments by both Sprint and Clearwire here in U.S. in the last half of 2007, as well as by Japanese operators."
Placing a big bet on wireless broadband, Sprint announced in August that it will spend $3 billion over the next two years to create a coast-to-coast WiMax network that it says will eventually serve 10 million subscribers. Motorola, which demonstrated its mobile WiMax gear at WiMax World in November, is expected to be the lead vendor on the project. Production of the Motorola gear should begin in the first quarter of next year, according to Motorola officials speaking privately. (See Sprint Goes WiMax and WiMax Ramps Up.)
To date the only significant commercial deployments of mobile WiMax, based on the IEEE 802.16e-2005 standard, have come in South Korea, where Beceem enjoys a solid partnership with operator Korea Telecom. Last week at Telecom World 2006 in Hong Kong, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker debuted "the industry's first baseband and RF chipset that supports all features of the Mobile WiMAX Wave 2 Profile." In particular, the chipset, labeled the BCS200, adds smart antenna technology including support for multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) system and beam-forming.
Faced with competition from semiconductor giant Intel, Beceem's strategy has been to stay one or two steps ahead with chipsets for leading-edge versions of WiMax. A Jan. 2006 report from Unstrung Insider, titled "WiMax Chipset 2006 Market Outlook," found that while Intel "is clearly the key player in user-terminal WiMax silicon," it "appears to lag nimbler startups, like Beceem, by up to 12 months in the 802.16e Mobile WiMax market."
WiMax silicon "is the most important segment of the WiMax market to watch;" says wireless analyst Craig Mathias, a principal in the FarPoint Group and an Unstrung columnist. "These components will largely define WiMax products, in much the same way that Wi-Fi chips define their products."
To be sure, the WHQL certification program is hardly a prerequisite for WiMax rollouts; only Microsoft's market domination makes it a significant milestone. It would be difficult, to say the least, for operators to win subscribers to a network using PC cards that derailed Windows.
"I'm a little cynical, perhaps, but I just see WHQL as another route for Microsoft to attempt to monitor and control the entire IT realm, to their benefit alone," adds Mathias. "If they built a decent OS, such wouldn't be necessary at all."
— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung