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Mobile WiMAX Semiconductor's Pivotal Role

In the past year, the stationary form of WiMAX (fixed WiMAX) has seen steady adoption in the marketplace. But the mobile version, 802.16-2005, will be here sooner than many people think. To be technically and economically viable, mobile WiMAX ICs must hit "sweet spots" on a number of parameters. Vendors who find them quickly will outpace those who don't.

"ABI Research sees fixed WiMAX sales hitting a peak in 2007 and then leveling off," says principal analyst Alan Varghese. "Mobile WiMAX will start to see deployments in 2007, and the crossover point between the two will be late in 2008. Considering that it takes a year to design ASICs and then more time to design them into end-equipment, vendors up and down the value chain need to be discussing the required tradeoffs in their strategy meetings now."

Performance, power consumption, and cost requirements for WiMAX ICs become much more challenging on the mobile platform. MIMO will be required, but it means increased circuitry, so IC vendors will have to trade off MIMO performance for die area, power usage, and price. The ASP for the WiMAX RF is about $15 and for the baseband about $23; the total is more than the BOM for a low tier device, so considerable cost reduction is needed.

WiMAX IC companies such as Beceem Communications and Runcom would seem to be very well-placed, since they bypassed fixed WiMAX and went straight to the mobile platform. But they are being shadowed by companies such as Redpine Signals, RF Magic, Sequans, Sierra Monolithics, Telecis, and Wavesat, which have honed their skills through deployments in fixed WiMAX. Competition will also come from giants such as Fujitsu and Intel that understand the mobile platform intimately all the way from RF to applications.

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