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Real World WiMax

WiMax World, BOSTON -- Big names in technology are out in force today at the opening of the WiMax trade show in blustery Beantown. New technology and talk from the likes of Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) start to reveal what WiMax will be when it grows up.

There are some distinct trends emerging at the show, with vendors talking up WiMax phones, grappling with migration from fixed wireless to mobile WiMax, and looking at the most efficient ways to build out these new networks.

Phones: Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) says it will have WiMax mobile phones ready by 2008. The devices will follow the Finnish giant's move into the infrastructure game with Flexi WiMax base stations that were unveiled today. Major cell phone rival Motorola has been a little more cautious and has not yet announced WiMax phone launch plans. "You know it's coming," says Barb Hiene, marketing comms manager at Motorola, but she wouldn't specify a date. Motorola, however, unveiled new indoor and outdoor mobile WiMax customer premises equipment at the show.

The big two cell phone makers aren't, however, the only two vendors eyeing WiMax cell phones. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) already demonstrated a WiMax handset back in January. (See CES: WiMax Phone First.) The main problem when designing these phones will initially be battery life as engineers work to shrink technology that was designed to be used in base stations and large modems so that it can live happily ever after in battery-powered devices.

Dual-Mode: Perhaps more interesting to enterprise users is the prospect of being able to get fast data downloads anytime or anywhere on their laptops. Intel says that its new WiMax Connection 2250 chipset is the first dual-mode baseband chip to allow the user to access fixed or mobile WiMax networks. The shrunken silicon likely indicates the direction the market will take as operators deploy a mixture of fixed and mobile wireless networks.

Mobile WiMax, you may remember, is not backward-compatible with the fixed variant. (See WiMax: A Spec Divided.) So, dual-mode chipsets are necessary. Base station vendors are already bringing to the fore systems that can combine the two specifications. (See Trapeze Unveils Next Gen Product .)

MiniMax: As complete WiMax networks get deployed, many vendors are suggesting that mini-base stations will be the ideal way to add more capacity when needed. There's a number of these cutesy little enclosures at the show. It remains to be seen, however, if operators will really go for these smaller base stations. Startups like Littlefeet said several years back that the cellular industry was bound to move to a micro-model, but the industry didn't move with them. (See Littlefeet Finds Littlebuyer.)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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