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WiMAX deal “clears” Linux for takeoff

Dec 2, 2008 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Clearwire Corp. announced that it has completed a $14.5 billion transaction with Sprint Nextel to combine their Mobile WiMAX broadband services. The merger of the two largest WiMAX services may accelerate deployments crucial to the success of Linux MIDs, netbooks, and other devices.

Announced in early May, the spin-off combines the WiMAX-ready 2.5GHz spectrum from Sprint Nextel and Clearwire under the Clearwire name, enabling “100MHz or more of optimal 4G spectrum in most markets across the U.S.,” says Clearwire. The new mobile WiMAX “4G” services will be deployed over the next two years and offer average download speeds of 2-4Mbps, with much faster peak rates, claims Clearwire. The services will be branded under the name “Clear,” replacing Sprint Nextel's XOHM brand for the WiMAX service it rolled out last month.

Intel places another WiMAX bet

Clearwire also announced that it received $3.2 billion from Comcast, Intel, Time Warner Cable, Google, and Bright House Networks. Intel, which offers a combination Mobile WiMax and WiFi module, Echo Peak, has been particularly vigorous in pushing WiMAX, especially for its Linux-oriented mobile Internet device (MID) format. A recent study by Hong Kong-based research firm CCID Consulting noted that lack of broadband deployments, including WiMAX, could be a key obstacle to MID's success.

So far, only one of the announced MIDs, the USI MID-160, supports WiMAX, with the others instead offering 3G cellular HDSPA and WiFi connectivity. However, Nokia now offers a WiMAX-enabled N810 Internet Tablet, which has a similar format to MIDs, and Asus has announced WiMAX options for its higher-end Eee PC netbooks. Meanwhile, the other netbook market leader, Acer, has said it plans to support the technology for its Aspire netbooks. All of the above mentioned devices offer Linux options.

The role of WiMAX in embedded Linux devices may extend far beyond MIDs and netbooks. An In-Stat report published earlier this year stated that the WiMAX “user terminal” chipset market was set to grow from $27 million in 2007 to nearly $500 million in 2012, and that WiMAX base-station semiconductor revenues would grow from $130 million to $1.4 billion in the same period. In-Stat did not break out the revenues by operating system, but products covered by these chipsets include some of the core competencies of embedded Linux: customer premise equipment (CPE), external clients, mobile PCs, cellular handsets, WiMAX-only handsets, ultra-mobile devices (UMDs), handheld game consoles, and portable media players (PMPs).

The long road from the last mile

WiMAX, or IEEE standard 802.16, was originally envisioned as a low-cost, last-mile link for metropolitan area networks (MANs) and rural areas. Compared to WiFi (802.11), it would support many more users per access point, and work better without an unobstructed “line-of-sight” path, Intel said when it announced the technology in 2004. Subsequently, WiMAX was adopted by mobile companies, who saw its potential as a “4G” (faster than 3Mbps) mobile data delivery technology. Participating companies worked for several years through the WiMAX Forum to develop the 802.16e “Mobile WiMAX” standard, adding cell-to-cell hand-off and other features needed to support non-fixed clients.

Sprint, which will sell Clearwire's WiMAX services along with Comcast, Time Warner, and other broadband providers, now owns 51 percent of Clearwire. The latter will also soon receive an investment from Trilogy Equity Partners, says Clearwire.

Stated Clearwire Chairman and cellular pioneer Craig O. McCaw, “This is not simply about a time-to-market advantage, but about having an amazing block of spectrum that is unencumbered by legacy commercial uses and technology. It is a chance to do something right the first time, with simplicity and incredible efficiencies. This is far and away the most exciting opportunity in wireless I have seen since the beginning of cellular in 1983.”

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