GENEVA — The broadband technology WiMax has been added to a global standard for mobile devices, boosting its chances of becoming the preferred system for the next generation of high-speed wireless Internet access.
The decision Friday by the U.N. telecommunications agency means that airwaves designated for other technologies in the standard known as IMT-2000 can now be used for networks based on WiMax. That's likely to spur development of the wireless technology, attract new investors and eventually drive down hardware costs, analysts said.
WiMax — short for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access — is capable of delivering wireless broadband connections at speeds of 70 megabits per second or more across an area of up to 40 miles. It's faster than many fixed-line broadband connections today, which typically offer speeds of around 2 megabits per second.
Early promoters of WiMax — including Intel Corp., Samsung, Motorola Inc. and Nokia Corp. — stand to gain the most from Friday's decision, said Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis, a British technology advisory firm.
"We're super, super, super thrilled," said Sriram Viswanathan, general manager of Intel's WiMax business and vice president of Intel Capital. "We've been at this for the last three years, and it was a very, very extensive amount of work with a lot of players in the industry."
The chip maker's investment arm poured more than $1 billion last year into building WiMax networks around the world and other WiMax-related investments.
Intel is rolling out chips next year for laptops, cell phones and mobile Internet devices that feature both WiMax and Wi-Fi capabilities on the same piece of silicon. Integrating the two technologies extends the range and bandwidth available to those devices.
The standards agreement was reached in a meeting of the International Telecommunication Union late Thursday, after the negotiators overcame the objections of a number of countries.
China, for one, opposed the move because it wants its own wireless broadband standard to be adopted globally. U.S. officials had argued in favor of adopting WiMax as an official IMT-2000 standard along with other high-speed mobile network technologies.
"We strongly believe in an approach that includes as many technologies as possible, within the appropriate technical parameters, because diversity will lead to greater competition, lower prices and more benefits to consumers," said Richard M. Russell, a White House expert on science and technology.
In the United States, Sprint Nextel Corp. has begun rolling out a nationwide WiMax network, starting in Chicago, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. ClearWire, founded by cellular pioneer Craig McCaw, also is deploying WiMax-based services.
WiMax could become as ubiquitous as mobile phones and conventional broadband, Bubley said.
"The real kick comes between two and five years from now," he said, when consumers will start seeing the first mobile phone-style devices using WiMax come on the market.
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