Predicting the future of wireless services requires a great imagination and the ability to sort the promotional wheat from the chaff. This task is being complicated further by the introduction of WiMAX, which promises to be the next competitor for the attention of consumers and businesses alike. "Traditional" digital-wireless-access methods (GSM and the flavors of CDMA) are being infused with speed-enhancing technology. Wi-Fi is expanding its scope outward from hotspots to the larger fixed and mobile environment. Yet WiMAX, which has immense support from companies with very deep pockets, has the potential to compete in every wide-area market that cellular and Wi-Fi now command. It could replace microwave links in cellular backhaul and even challenge DSL and cable for service to the home. Some skepticism will be required, however, to prudently use the aforementioned imagination and parse truth from wishful thinking.

It is now clear that the WiMAX standard will take hold for both point-to-multipoint applications in rural areas of North America and in countries with minimal communications infrastructure. It also will serve as a replacement for current techniques in cellular backhaul. In fact, US-based carriers like Clearwire, Sprint, and Bellsouth all plan to deploy WiMAX (or are already doing so, in the case of Clearwire). Other carriers throughout the world are beginning to deploy IEEE 802.16 this year. Yet whether or not WiMAX will become the mobile-broadband standard of choice (versus cellular-based technologies EVDO and HSDPA) is far from certain. If the cellular-based broadband standards take hold before WiMAX is widely deployed, its success in this scenario will be significantly reduced.

Overall, WiMAX is well on its way toward becoming an industry standard with broad support. It must be taken seriously by suppliers of wireless-component and subsystem solutions. One of the greatest challenges will be optimizing RF power devices, which are the greatest contributors to power consumption. Freescale Semiconductor, for example, has announced silicon-LDMOS WiMAX devices with the required linearity and power output through 3.5 GHz, which encompasses both US and worldwide deployments. Soon, it will announce high-voltage GaAs devices that will extend its portfolio through 6 GHz. Powered by such devices, WiMAX systems will be able to meet their promise of providing a compelling alternative to more traditional services without any cost penalty.

Freescale Semiconductor, Inc., 6501 William Cannon Dr. West, Austin, TX 78735; Internet: www.freescale.com/rf.

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