WiMax set to make splash in summer

After years of promise, it looks like WiMax, or Wi-Fi on steroids, as it has been described, is finally ready to make a big splash this year.

LAS VEGAS — After years of promise, it looks like WiMax — or Wi-Fi on steroids, as it has been described — is finally ready to make a big splash this year.

Attendees walk next to a WiMax booth at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Tuesday. ((Paul Sakuma/Associated Press))

Microprocessor giant Intel Corp. announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that it will ship computer chips embedded with WiMax receivers beginning this summer.

Some computer manufacturers also announced they would incorporate the chips into their products, with Taiwan-based Asustek Computer International promising that 15 per cent of its laptop shipments this year would have embedded WiMax.

WiMax has for years been promoted by its backers, primarily Intel, as superior wireless broadband that provides much better range and speed than Wi-Fi. It has also been hailed as the best solution for providing rural communities with broadband access.

Intel chief executive officer Paul Otellini more than two years ago promised that WiMax chips would be widely deployed in laptops by the end of 2006, but that never came to pass.

Gregory Ofili, director of marketing for Intel and vice-chair of the WiMax Forum, said the technology's supporters have been waiting until WiMax was more widely deployed by internet service providers. With more than 300 commercial tests running around the world, the time is now right to launch the chips, he said.

But the service providers say it's a chicken-or-the-egg matter.

David Robinson, vice-president of new business planning for Rogers Wireless — a member of the WiMax Forum steering body —  said the company was waiting on consumer devices to be introduced before committing full investment in WiMax.

Rogers, in partnership with Bell Canada, is testing an early WiMax technology through its Inukshuk joint venture.

Robinson said the announcements by Intel and Asustek were encouraging votes of confidence for the technology.

"That's a very favourable sign for WiMax," he said. The deployment of WiMax-enabled consumer devices is "critical" to Rogers' investment decisions, he added.

Intel, which called the new chips the biggest breakthrough in microprocessors in 40 years, displayed WiMax technology at its booth in the form of a remote-control car race. Attendees were invited to sit in mock race cars, which were fitted with laptops that connected and controlled the toy racers by WiMax.

According to the WiMax Forum, the technology is expected to be able to deliver internet speeds of about 15 megabits per second within three kilometres of a transmitter.