Intel To Focus on Broadband Wireless Chips

Complementing its recent wireless push — spearheaded by the company’s new Centrino mobile chips — Intel has announced it is developing fixed wireless silicon products designed to extend the reach of mobile networking.

The Santa Clara, California-based chip giant said that the wireless broadband equipment, to be based on the new 802.16a standard, will provide an alternative to existing last-mile broadband access such as cable and DSL.

However, analysts said that despite advances in fixed wireless technology and the significance of Intel’s investment, wireless broadband is unlikely to compete with cable or DSL because of cost and spectrum issues.

“It’s a good technology solution,” Forrester analyst Charles Golvin told TechNewsWorld. “But technology hasn’t really been the problem for fixed wireless.”

Fumbling Over Frequencies

Intel, which will partner with broadband-equipment-maker Alvarion for the 802.16a silicon, said its WiMAX equipment would complement existing Intel wireless building blocks, such as Centrino, Intel’s latest mobile processor. Intel designed Centrino specifically for low-power mobile computing requirements.

Golvin said that despite recent advances in fixed wireless technology, it is limited by a “fragmented spectrum landscape,” which will allow cable and DSL providers to lengthen their lead in providing broadband access.

Yankee Group broadband analyst Lindsay Schrock agreed, but said that Intel’s involvement in fixed wireless is important for the industry.

“They do have the ability to produce this in mass scale, and they’re getting people’s attention to what they’re doing,” Schrock told TechNewsWorld.

Falling Fixed Prices

Schrock, who said the silicon product announced by Intel is likely to become the basis for an indoor terminal that would be the equivalent of a wireless cable modem, sees Intel driving down the price of this kind of equipment. High prices have hindered fixed wireless thus far.

While she said an 802.16a solution is unlikely to compete with cable or DSL among residential broadband customers, Schrock sees corporate T-1 customers as the target for Intel and other fixed wireless vendors.

Alvarion CEO Zvi Slonimsky said in a statement that his company and Intel see low-cost WiMAX equipment based on the 802.16a standard as “the catalyst for growth of the broadband wireless access market, similar to the impact WiFi had on the wireless LAN market.”

Widening Wireless Coverage

Schrock said wireless users have gone as far as they can with the 802.11, or WiFi, wireless standard in terms of distance. She pointed out that fixed wireless standards such as 802.16a are likely to complement WiFi and further its reach.

“Despite people pushing 802.11 beyond its intended boundaries, the truth is that 802.16a technology really is wide area wireless technology,” she said.

Intel spokesperson Tom Potts, who told TechNewsWorld the company does intend to bring down the cost of WiMAX-certified, fixed wireless products, said the new chips are part of the company’s effort to get back to its roots as “a building block supplier.” He said the company is in the early development stage of the wireless broadband product and will announce a timeline later.

NEC Putting TV on Cell Phones

In other news, Japanese phone maker NEC has unveiled a prototype mobile phone capable of delivering digital television signals. A commercial launch of the TV-capable mobile phones is not expected until 2005, when digital services for mobile devices should be available in major Japanese cities.

The handsets, which would provide more than an hour of television viewing on a single charge, also would let users make purchases of TV-displayed items, according to NEC. The Japanese electronics company said it would likely price the handsets around US$150.

Sony Recalls Vaio Laptops Over Shock

Sony announced it is recalling about 18,000 of its popular Vaio laptop computers because of the risk of faulty modems that could deliver small electrical shocks to users.

The Japanese electronics giant said it will provide free repairs to owners of the Vaio laptops, which include approximately 3,000 that were shipped in the United States. The two Vaio models in question began selling in May, Sony said.

The two laptops affected by the recall are in the FR series, or FRV in the United States, a popular model with a large screen and with a price starting around $1,500. In Japan, the model numbers being recalled are PCG-FR77E/B and PCG-FR55E. In the United States, they are the PCG-FRV27 and PCG-FRV25.

The company said the back of the notebooks might shock somebody who touches its metal parts when the modem is in use.

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