Intel is telling anyone who'll listen that 802.16 — aka WiMax — is the wireless way of the future. To that end, myself and various other hacks are installed in a small room with sandwiches, orange juice and Sean Maloney, superduper honcho at Intel's Mobility Group. There are PowerPoint slides. There's a printed circuit board with a chip on it.
There is a live demo of a Skype link to an insanely enthusiastic Science Museum employee in the depths of the countryside, rattling around a huge warehouse that contains the museum's off-site collections. Thanks to Wimax, they no longer have to walk miles to find the documentation for their bits, because they can call them up via wireless! Coo! So you've got WiMax in laptops now?
Er, no. Expect that towards the end of the decade. The WiMax bit is a point to point link, like any other point to point link, that puts the Science Museum's warehouse on Intel's bandwidth via the Swindon offices a few kilometres away. The stuff inside the warehouse is good old fashioned Wi-Fi. But look, WiMax works!
There are a few little hurdles to leap before WiMax working becomes WiMax wanted. When will the frequencies be available? Nobody knows. How much bandwidth will be available? All depends. When will someone standing in a field in Devon be able to get their megabits? That depends on the frequencies becoming available, and setting up an infrastructure, and getting the price of the chips down. Intel knows how to get the price of the chips down, and is happy to talk about this bit.
But, um, won't 3G be there first? Ah, no, 3G isn't really for data. It's for voice and stuff like that. Why, some of it won't even do IP! And it's a fragmented standard with different countries doing different things. Intel hates fragmented standards and those nasty people who fragment them by refusing to cooperate with Intel.
Which raises the question that if 3G isn't a success, who'll invest in building out another fast data wireless network? And if it is, the same question works just as well. WiMax's best chance is if 3G is so popular that there's no more bandwidth available on it and people have to move on to the next network. And there are moves afoot to amalgamate the next version of 3G and WiMax, so… who knows.
As for what happens next, well, BT is dead keen on the idea, says Maloney, and will be getting kit later on this year for more trials.
BT? Rolling out a new broadband technology? With its reputation? What can possibly go wrong?