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Wavesat and IBM

In their efforts to add value to the base specifications, the specialists are focusing heavily on critical issues that remain imperfectly solved in WiMAX devices, notably reducing power consumption, especially in multimode formats, and so integrating as much functionality as possible on to the chip.

Wavesat, whose main successes have been with Taiwanese ODMs, scored a notable coup by signing up IBM to manufacture and codevelop its Panther CPE silicon (official name UMobile 802.16e). The companies will use IBM's Power Architecture running at up to 400MHz in a design that can support functionality "beyond wave 2" in areas such as MIMO and on-chip memory, according to Wavesat president Vijay Dube. The deal may also signal IBM's intention to get serious about WiMAX as a market for Power.

In July, Singapore's Nex-G set out a roadmap including macro WiMAX and femtocell base stations and CPE, all using the IBM PowerPC chip, and said it would create a reference design based on the Power architecture. Nex-G is also a Wavesat partner in the fixed WiMAX arena and these various activities are likely to converge further.

The other Power major is Freescale, which has been less active than IBM in ploughing R&D funding into WiMAX partnerships, a factor that lost it an original deal with Nex-G.

For Wavesat, the key differentiator against Intel is putting 4Mb of memory on chip, doing away with the need for external memory except in the highest range devices. The first Panther-supported devices will be aimed at the Korean market and will be USB dongles and dual-mode WiMAX/CDMA PDAs and handsets, with SKT and consumer electronics companies being the primary targets (Wavesat already has a relationship with SKT).

The new chips will sample later this year, though this has been delayed from the initial deadline of September because, as Dube explained in an interview, customers are demanding more specific and non-standard functionality than he had originally anticipated.

He told WiMAX Vision: "For example, in Korea SK Telecom is requiring media independent handover (MIH) so end users can handover between the WiMAX network and the 3G network. Another example is customers' demands on the 624 QAM uplink modulation."

All this will make certification vital to ensure products remain standard, but will also require additional efforts at advanced interoperability testing, beyond the Forum profiles, among vendors and chip designers.

Other WiMAX CPE moves

  • In Chicago, Motorola revealed its WiMAX chipsets for handheld devices, which it said it would incorporate into its upcoming lines of smartphone, palmtop, and tablet devices. It will offer a dual-mode chipset for CDMA and W-CDMA with WiMAX.
  • Motorola also unveiled its first CPE unit, though its new WiMAX silicon is not embedded in that. The desktop gateway instead uses the Intel WiMAX Connection 2250 chipset, also known as Rosedale 2, supporting both fixed and mobile WiMAX configurations.
  • GTC entered the race with a system-on-chip (SoC) integrating RF, MAC, and physical layer components. GTC has been developing Wi-Bro chips in Korea and is now targeting 802.16e wave 2. It has started sampling its 2.5GHz chip and plans to begin commercial production in early 2008.
  • Another new entrant is ApaceWave, which has announced a device baseband platform targeted at low cost CPEs and PC cards.
  • Comsys announced two reference designs, showing off its own key differentiator, integration of GSM/EDGE with WiMAX in a low cost handset platform. Both are built around its ComMAX multimode baseband processors. Both platforms feature a full level of hardware and software integration, including the capability for the handset vendor to use a single reference design platform to operate with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS modules.

Of course, the challenge of beating Intel will get tough once the giant starts to operate on all cylinders. The company said in its WiMAX World keynote that it would transition from "Intel Inside" to "Intel on the Internet", and that would involve making WiMAX chips "abysmally cheap, abysmally fast".

Copyright © 2007, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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