Wimax will have about 20% of the next generation wireless communication market, Long Term Evolution (LTE), a follow-on to cellular's GSM standard, will command the lion's share of fourth-generation cellular systems.
MacLeod said carriers Sprint Nextel, startup Clearwire and Russia's Sistema have committed to WiMax, while Cingular and Vodafone are backing LTE. AT&T, BT and Verizon may use WiMax as an adjunct to their fiber-to-the-home deployments, and satellite broadcasters are considering WiMax as a back channel.
Qualcomm may play the role of spoiler in what some see as a two-way race between LTE and WiMax. As early as the 3GSM or CTIA conference this spring, the company will demonstrate its plans for a technology beyond wideband CDMA that could be a contender for fourth-generation cellular.
Uma Jha, a director of product management at Qualcomm, said the company will demo products that deliver 10 Mbits/second of data and have better spectral efficiency than WiMax. Qualcomm has been working with partners such as Lucent and Samsung to get its version of orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing accepted by the IEEE 802.20 group as well as the 3GPP2 group's Ultra Mobile Broadband cellular standards effort.
Carriers like Sprint are said to be attracted to WiMax primarily as a replacement for the leased lines they use to backhaul cellular traffic. But Atish Gude, senior vice president of Sprint's mobile broadband group, said one of the features that makes WiMax stand out is its ability to break old cellular business models by supporting new users and new devices, bought at retail.
Intel expects to follow up next year with devices offering a tenfold reduction in power draw. The 2008 devices will also include very low-power X86 CPUs now in design under Gadi Singer, who worked on both the Itanium server and the Xscale cellular processors at Intel.
Spectrum remains a factor limiting some WiMax uses. One carrier at last week's meeting lamented that his company could deploy WiMax in the United States today to serve rural users if the government would approve WiMax at 3.5 GHz. Many countries outside the United States allow WiMax at 3.5 GHz.
Other conference goers said the United States should open up use of WiMax at 700 MHz, where new spectrum will be available after the government reclaims analog broadcast TV airwaves in February 2009.