Wi-Fi Versus WiMAX: Which Is The Future?

Phil Solis, senior analyst for wireless connectivity, notes that Intel, the most aggressive of WiMAX IC vendors, expects to have chipsets ready for sale to laptop makers in mid-2006. Intel will probably be first to market, followed by Fujitsu Semiconductors and Wavesat, Inc.

That means, says Solis, that it will be several years before WiMAX gains any real traction in the 802.16e market. (802.16e is the mobile version of WiMAX that will allow for portability and mobility.) “We’re not looking at WiMAX even starting to compete against Wi-Fi until 2007, when it will turn up in a few laptops. By then, Wi-Fi penetration in laptops will be almost universal.”

Before WiMAX chips appear in computers, customer premises equipment (CPE) receivers will be able to get signals from local transmitters. But that still leaves the rest of the devices in a corporate or home network unconnected. And putting WiMAX chips, with their high power consumption, in PDAs or phones will be more difficult, and occur later, than putting them in a laptop. A combined scenario — WiMAX to the building, then Wi-Fi for the interior network — should get the best of both worlds.

The research suggests that WiMAX may coexist with Wi-Fi, providing backhaul to Wi-Fi access points, and as a supplement to costly cable and DSL deployment in areas where they are not present. Underdeveloped countries and large rural regions stand to profit from WiMAX’s lower infrastructure cost.

ABI Research’s recent update to its “Wi-Fi Quarterly Service” examines Wi-Fi semiconductors and integrated circuits, equipment and Wi-Fi public hotspots, as well as all the many flavors forming part of the Wi-Fi family of standards. A further discussion will be included in a new WiMAX report now in preparation.

ABI Research Website