Company Claims First True WiMax Chip

WaveSat this week began shipping a chip that it says is the first to comply fully with the IEEE 802.16-2004 wireless broadband standard, commonly known as WiMax.

The DM256 chip is now shipping in sample quantities and is expected to be available in volume in January, according to Francois Draper, vice president of sales and marketing at WaveSat, in Montreal. The chip will become a component of systems costing around $250 to $300 that should begin shipping in the second quarter of next year, he says.

In its first incarnation, defined by the IEEE 802.16-2004 standard, WiMax is intended as a fixed wireless broadband technology for homes and businesses, capable of delivering speeds comparable to current wired broadband. A later version expected in 2007, based on the emerging IEEE 802.16e specification, will allow for mobile broadband services.

Semiconductor giant Intel is aggressively promoting WiMax technology and is developing its own chips. WiMax backers expect the cost of equipment to fall quickly as the technology is produced in volume. Draper expects customer devices to hit about $100 in 2006 or 2007.

The data throughput of a WiMax network varies depending on distance and the width of the radio spectrum band it can use. With 20-MHz of spectrum, comparable to the amount available on Wi-Fi wireless LANs, a WiMax base station could deliver about 70 megabits per second, Draper says. That bandwidth could be divided up among home and business customers however a service provider chooses, he adds.

Chipping In

The DM256 is a "phy," or physical layer, chip, which essentially plays the role of a modem, Draper says. System manufacturers will combine the chip with a MAC (media access control) processor and an RF (radio frequency) component. The DM256 can be used in both base stations and customer premises equipment, he says.

With this version of the chip, a customer premises device will need to have an outdoor antenna. An improved chip, due by the end of next year, will allow for devices that sit inside a home or office, Draper says. Also at that time, WaveSat will switch to FPGAs (field-programmable grid array) chips for base stations because they are more programmable than the current integrated circuits. The company will work with system makers to ease the transition to the FPGAs, he says.

The DM256 chips will cost about $35 each in quantities of 10,000 or more, according to Draper. WaveSat has large-volume orders for the chip from more than a dozen system makers, he says. The company has disclosed one customer, Chinese network vendor ZTE, though Draper would not comment on whether ZTE has ordered the DM256.

The WiMax Forum should begin certifying equipment for standards compliance and interoperability in mid-2005, says Draper, who also holds a post in the industry group. He expects most of WaveSat's customers to come out with WiMax products before certification takes place.

On Monday, WaveSat announced a partnership with EDOM Technology, which will distribute the chips in Taiwan. WaveSat already has several distributors in mainland China and also is seeking a worldwide distributor, Draper says.

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