The WiMax Difference

Intel announces one of the first major deployments of WiMAX hardware, which may set up a showdown with cellular carriers…Farmers get some technological help…and Motorola gets some rhythm in its step.


WiMAX, or the 802.16 standard, is meant to do for the Internet what cell phones did for making telephone calls. Soon, Internet access will span for miles with the help of a series of towers delivering connectivity. Unfortunately, the idea has been sloshing around in the murky depths of standards development for years.

This has been dragging on so long, in fact, that companies such as Clearwire and California’s NextWeb have already built substantial profit margins by offering complicated “pre-WiMAX” technology services which are scaled down versions of WiMAX that constrict data rates and end-user mobility.

But, last week, WiMAX finally hit the big time. Intel announced that it’s beginning worldwide shipments of its PRO/Wireless 5116 hardware, which means commercial WiMAX trials are about to start popping up by the end of the year.

This isn’t the first release of WiMAX hardware, but it does signal the most significant advancement as of yet. The chipmaker will be working with Clearwire to act as a service provider, but numerous other media companies are on board to be WiMAX service carriers. Using the pre-WiMAX technologies already in place, wholly developed ecosystems (as Intel likes to call them) of devices, users, towers and multiple service carriers should be emerging by the end of 2006.

But one has to wonder how this set up will take place.

In large cities, where it’s easy enough to prop a tower on a building, WiMAX will sometimes be in direct competition with city-run, distributed WiFi systems. Although, as Intel points out, WiMAX signals are likely to fade out like a cellular service inside of buildings, so the technology is actually best when paired with interior WiFi hot spots.

And many smaller communities, especially in the Northeast, are already peeved at the number of ugly cell phone towers. Although there are rumors that some companies are pushing to revamp some cell towers into WiMAX, since they can also carry cellular signals.

As a side note, look for a big portion of WiMAX’s early income to come from carrying cellular backhaul – at least until enough people pick up their own personal WiMAX cards to make the venture profitable for broadband Internet service providers.

Along the same lines, WiMAX may actually begin to replace cell phone service. Or at least that’s what NextWeb has in mind. They announced last week that they’re going to start a WiMAX phone service in a couple of months.

So after the big deployment, what’s next? Well, there is the eventual deployment of the 802.20 standards, which will be a souped-up cellular service that can provide one megabits per second (Mbps) of data transmission. At issue: this will likely draw too much away from the 3G infrastructure for smart phones, in which phone companies have made tremendous investment.

Further down the line, Sanswire may have the winning idea. Last week, they unveiled the first stratellite, a blimpish looking craft that positions itself at a fixed location in the stratosphere to provide wireless service to an area the size of Texas.

That’s Some Tasty DNA

The Washington Post reported last week on MetaMorphix Inc., which uses a genotyping machine to analyze blood samples drawn from cattle. The idea is that certain genes indicate whether a cow can produce that tender, thickly marbled beef ranchers want. Ranchers in Kansas and Texas are using this data to decide which of their cows get expensive diets and which just get to eat hay.  The practice will also probably spread to chickens and pigs in no time.

Doubling Up

PCs with Intel’s dual-core processors began shipping last Monday, but analysts expect the big prices that come along with the extra power to keep the computers from being the huge sellers Intel predicted. The profitable application, they say, is in the $4 billion server market – the main target of AMD, which unveiled its own dual-core chip last Thursday.

The New Mobile Music

When you think of music, do you think of Motorola? The phone maker is trying to push its way to the front of the pack with its new music service. First, there was the iTunes deal with Apple, and now it has announced an iRadio service. Customers download 10 hours of preprogrammed content, and pretend that it’s a live feed. The inspiration for this comes from the success of satellite radio, but the question remains: Can pre-programmed compete with live broadcasts?

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From the latest smartphones to advances in quantum computing, the hardware behind today's digital age is rapidly changing.

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