Tuesday, April 19, 2005

What's Inside Intel's New WiMAX Chip

Intel has just announced availability of its first WiMAX product, the PRO/Wireless 5116 broadband interface. This long anticipated chip, code named "Rosedale" during development, is a complete WiMAX system on a 360 pin integrated circuit. With this chip and a relatively few external parts, it's possible to build WiMAX modems and residential gateways. The technology and marketing power of Intel ensure that WiMAX wireless broadband service is clearly imminent.

WiMAX or Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access is the coming 800 lb Wireless Gorilla. Instead of a mere few hundred feet of WiFi hotspot coverage, WiMAX will create giant coverage areas with a range up to 31 miles in all directions. WiMAX is to WiFi as cellular telephone service is to cordless home phones.

The new Intel PRO/Wireless 5116 broadband interface meets the latest WiMAX specification, IEEE 802.16-2004, approved last July. This is essentially the first production version of WiMAX, although upgrades are in the works. You probably can't get WiMAX service yet unless you are part of the early implementations overseas. The Intel chip and others to follow are likely to change that within the next year or so.

So, what do those 360 pins connect to inside that little black chip? The answer is just about everything you need to create a WiMAX product. It's all digital, of course. There are multiple processors to do the math needed for generating the OFDM or Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing radio signal and security encryption. A 10/100 Ethernet bridge provides one broadband interface. Another interface handles TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) circuits such a T1 or E1 lines. T1 is the most popular carrier grade digital line in the U.S. E1 is the basic carrier grade digital line in Europe. The output interface is the transmit and receive radio frequency signal that goes to circuitry connected to the antenna. There is also an external memory interface for connecting to SDRAM and FLASH memories.

The Intel Pro/Wireless 5116 broadband interface is essentially a very specialized computer on a chip. Designers need only to provide it with power, circuitry to complete the physical interfaces, and any specialized programming particular to a given application. The end products will be outdoor and indoor self-installable WiMAX modems and residential gateways for home and business use. The most popular application of WiMAX is expected to be wireless broadband Internet service. The Intel interface is also being billed as supporting TDM voice and real-time video and voice over IP.

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