Intel Corp. came to Washington yesterday to roll out its latest product, a computer chip designed for a new high-speed wireless technology capable of delivering broadband service over many miles.
The new wireless technology is called WiMax (for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access). It would allow homes and businesses to receive high-speed Internet service wirelessly instead of via cable or telephone lines. The range of the service would depend on many factors; in rural areas, the signal could travel as far as 30 miles, according to Intel.
Intel came to Washington for the product launch to show off the technology to U.S. policymakers.
"We wanted to educate government audiences about the potential of the technology," said Jennifer Greeson, a spokeswoman for Intel.
While early WiMax products will operate within mostly unregulated frequencies of the wireless spectrum in the United States -- at the 5.8 and 2.5 gigahertz range -- some products in the works may operate at lower frequencies that will require approval by the Federal Communications Commission.
Intel is selling its WiMax "PRO/Wireless 5116 broadband interface device" for about $45 to manufacturers who buy in bulk. The first wave of products using Intel's wireless technology should be available this fall; one day, Intel hopes the use of WiMax will be as widespread as WiFi (short for Wireless Fidelity), a wireless standard commonly used to create home networks.
Dean S.K. Chang, a representative of the WiMax Forum, a trade group devoted to establishing WiMax standards, considered Intel's product launch a milestone.
The equipment a WiMax customer needs to receive a wireless Internet signal costs $500 or $600, he said, compared with high-speed DSL or cable modems that cost less than $100. With lower-priced equipment from a big player like Intel, companies selling WiMax services could begin to court consumers, he said.
"We've needed larger chip players to help drive the costs down," he said.
The technology could supplement or even replace DSL or cable connections for high-speed Internet users, especially in rural areas or developing nations, where such wired connections are not widely available, said Michael Cai, an analyst at Parks Associates.
Eric Mantion, an analyst at high-tech market research firm In-Stat, said mobile phones using WiMax networks could one day provide competition for cell phones, much as satellite television service offers an alternative to cable TV.
But that is, for the moment, a distant dream for WiMax technology, which is still a work in progress. "There are more 'maybes' between here and there than you can count," Mantion said.