CTIA: WiMax in the Air

ORLANDO, Fla. -- CTIA Wireless -- There's a definite whiff of WiMax in the air down here in the Magic Kingdom.

Major vendors such as Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE) are firming up their mobile strategies for the wireless broadband technology. Operator Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) has named more WiMax markets in the U.S. into 2008. Meanwhile, smaller companies such as Tropos Networks Inc. are bringing together WiFi, WiMax, and more, as well as new mesh networking products.

Sprint now says it will launch WiMax in 19 cities by April 2008. These markets include Chicago, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, Providence, Washington DC, Austin, Dallas, Denver, Fort Worth, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, and Seattle. The operator's current WiMax partners -- Motorola, Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), and Samsung Corp. -- will split the deployments between them.

Motorola now says that it has nine contracts for the installation of 802.16e WiMax networks and is taking part in 25 trials with the technology worldwide. The company says that it is especially seeing mobile WiMax growth in "emerging markets."

Motorola's latest trial is with Brazilian operator, TVA, which will conduct a test using mobile WiMax technology in Rio de Janeiro. The operator will use 2.5GHz Motorola infrastructure and customer equipment to offer to test "mobile TV, video, VOIP, and media streaming services and data applications" and how WiMax performs in Rio.

All the major infrastructure vendors, however, are still awaiting the test and ratification of mobile WiMax devices. In the meantime, they are signing on key chip startups to pad their portfolios with the latest in mobile WiMax technology, some of which will hit mass volumes after the first wave of mobile products is -- hopefully -- certified by the WiMAX Forum .(See Motorola's WiMax Wait.)

To whit, Motorola has signed up Beceem Communications Inc. as a mobile silicon provider for its first generation WiMax CPE and PCMCIA card products. While Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE) has chosen rival Sequans Communications to deliver faster "wave two" mobile WiMax chips, which are expected to hit the mass-market in 2008. (See Beceem Supplies Motorola and Siemens Picks Sequans.)

Meanwhile, mesh WiFi vendor Tropos, which supplies EarthLink Inc. (Nasdaq: ELNK) with municipal kit, has unveiled a new citywide networking system that can support a number of different radio types -- from 802.11, to WiMax and 4.9GHz public safety systems.

Tropos has been working on a multi-radio, multi-mode system for a while. Unstrung first heard about such a product back in July 2006. (See Mesh Mash-Up.)

Such a system would allow operators to more easily support public and private access over one platform; as well as possibly providing different levels of speeds and services via WiFi and WiMax.

The early documents around the EarthLink and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) San Francisco municipal project show that operators are already thinking about faster broadband over muni, potentially using WiMax. The initial agreement sates that "Earthlink will offer a high-speed, point-to-point fixed wireless product [3 Mbit/s or best effort] by the time of the Final Network Acceptance." (See WiMax's Bay Window.) — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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