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CHICAGO – Supercomm 2004 – The coming wireless metropolitan area specification WiMax is one of the hot topics here at Supercomm.

Fixed wireless vendors -- once the redheaded stepchild of the mobile market -- are somehow hip again [ed. note: in a Huey Lewis and the News kind of a way]. And they’re out in a gaggle on the show floor, showing off what their mamas gave ‘em [ed. note: not a pretty sight]. These newly confident equipment vendors are talking up the technology and showing off the thrilling battleship-gray boxes and large, flat antennas that will be the backbone of WiMax networks when they start to roll out sometime next year.

But there’s one big issue that hasn’t really been covered in the welter of hype that has surrounded WiMax. And that is the cost of WiMax equipment.

WiMax is supposed to bring down the cost of wireless metropolitan networks. The theory being that developing equipment to the 802.16a specifications that are at the heart of WiMax will allow vendors to get cheaper components, as all of the chip and antenna manufacturers make products based on the WiMax specification instead of developing proprietary silicon.

In fact the CEO of startup Aperto Networks makes a fairly bold claim about how quickly WiMax customer premises equipment prices will drop.

”It will not be unreasonable to see that WiMax CPEs will achieve the same kind of price points that wireless LAN [access points] are at now [$150 and less] within three years,” says Reza Ahy.

If Ahy’s prediction does come true, that could be a major driver for the WiMax industry, since it is the relative cheapness of wireless LAN equipment that has helped its ready acceptance in both the consumer -- and more recently -- enterprise markets.

Yet, all accept that WiMax equipment will carry a healthy premium when it initially hits the market.

Jeff Orr, product marketing manager of Proxim Corp.'s WAN division, told us recently that he expects his firm’s first WiMax-certified CPE products to come in “at the high end” of what the firm charges for its existing broadband wireless offerings.

Orr points out that some of Proxim’s fixed wireless kit is based on a fourth- or fifth-generation chipsets, which is generally cheaper, smaller, and more efficient than the original silicon. — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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