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Intel could be closing the door on the emerging 802.20 mobile broadband wireless access standard after the company admitted to uncertainty surrounding the working group's ability to put aside self-interest. But the chip giant has finally accepted the rise of the Bluetooth short-range wireless technology, which will shortly be accommodated in its wireless LAN chipsets.

Intel's position was outlined at a journalist presentation given by senior executives from its communications group in Palo Alto, California last Friday. Intel's top-line position on wireless technology support was provided by Sean Maloney, executive VP and general manager for the group.

Mr Maloney re-affirmed Intel's commitment to WLAN, WiMax, GSM/GPRS and WCDMA but was equivocal on the likelihood of the company developing chipsets around the IEEE's developing 802.20 standard, also known as mobile broadband wireless access.

The technology, which offers high-bandwidth wireless Internet access even when the user is moving at speed, has been seen as a rival to the 802.16 wireless metropolitan area network technology, now embodied in WiMax. However, standards efforts have already been slowed by considerable in-fighting among the main protagonists.

Intel, perhaps naturally under the circumstances, appears somewhat skeptical that the situation can easily be resolved, although Mr Maloney did not completely rule out the possibility of adopting the technology at a later date.

"I have to avoid saying anything that's interesting enough for you to quote. The WiMax community is full of people that compete with each other but it's a functional family. It seems to me that the arguments around 802.20 are much more complicated," said Mr Maloney.

Intel's confidence in WiMax, for which it is a major supporter, has grown. "It's early and [there's a lot of] skepticism around it. We're trying to be cautious but we're six months more confident than we were six months ago. In 12 months time we'll have very considerable experience," said Mr Maloney.

"The interoperability of WiMax provides a very high economics both for Intel and the foundries. At some point you've got to look at areas with volume economics," added Jim Johnson, VP and general manager of the wireless networking group within Intel's communications group.

Intel's first WiMax-approved chipset is expected to appear commercially before the end of this year.

But while Intel has cast doubt on its possible backing of 802.20 in future the company has finally recognized the rise of Bluetooth as an important wireless technology, even if it remains unlikely to develop Bluetooth chipsets itself.

Johnson said Bluetooth will be accommodated in its updated line of Centrino chips, with a new technology addition known as Coexistence 2. "We'll be adding Coexistence 2 in the fall a, b, g refresh," said Johnson. "We're now saying let's give Bluetooth its fair bandwidth allocation. Before [in the presence of WLAN] it was just pushed aside."

Doubt remains over the future of the 802.20 project after the representatives of leading advocates Navini, ArrayComm and Flarion were voted out of office in June 2003 to be replaced by representatives of Lucent, NTT DoCoMo, and a former senior Motorola executive.

This outcome was viewed by 802.20 supporters as a political coup to suppress development of the technology by 3G and 802.16e equipment vendors that had managed to gain voting rights. Where this leaves the 802.20 effort is unclear. However, its supporters remain adamant that the technology is not competitive with WiMax, with the former likely to be rolled out along the lines of a traditional cellular mobile phone network over a large footprint while WiMax installations will probably be relatively small-scale in terms of footprint. Source: ComputerWire/Datamonitor

Related research: Datamonitor, "MarketWatch: Telecoms Annual Subscription"

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