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Sprint Nextel gives mobile WiMAX the green light

The US telecommunications giant will spend up to $3 billion over the next two years developing and deploying a mobile WiMAX network that operates at 2.5 GHz.

Sprint Nextel is to build the first "fourth generation" (4G) network for broadband wireless Internet connectivity across the US.

The network will be based on the mobile Wireless Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) technology standard, also known as IEEE 802.16e-2005, and will operate in the 2.5 GHz frequency band.

Makers of compound semiconductor chips and components such as RF amplifiers are looking to the new communications protocol as a key market driver for devices based on GaAs, GaN and SiC.

Sprint, which has also pioneered the deployment of digital optical and CDMA cellular networks in the US, says that it will spend up to $3 billion over the next two years as it rolls out the network in rapid fashion.

Long-time WiMAX supporters Intel, Motorola and Samsung are all involved in the project. Sprint is aiming to launch the wireless broadband service in trial markets by the end of 2007, and plans a full roll-out to as many as 100 million people in 2008.

Samsung and Motorola will both support the network through the development of multi-mode devices that will be able to access both the cellular and WiMAX frequency channels.

They will also be focusing on network infrastructure, and the Korean company will be able draw on its domestic experience where a similar wireless broadband standard known as "WiBro" has been pioneered.

Key role for GaAs?
GaAs component specialist Anadigics could be one of many III-V companies set to benefit from the roll-out, as it already has a strong relationship with Intel through its Centrino Wi-Fi chipset.

The linearity demands of mobile WiMAX on the power amplifier are even more demanding than for Wi-Fi and cellular applications, suggesting a key role for GaAs when the technology is rolled out.

Anadigics already has a set of products in volume production for broadband wireless applications in Asia, where the technology is already being deployed.

Cree, which has developed wide-bandgap transistors for WiMAX infrastructure applications, has also welcomed Sprint s move. Jim Milligan from the company said, "It is probably the firmest commitment to WiMAX that I ve seen, at least in North America."

"We are targeting all of the relevant WiMAX bands and we feel can offer superior performance at competitive prices."

The need for multimode RF devices in customer premises WiMAX equipment, as well as high-power amplifiers in infrastructure applications, should add to the already strong demand for compound semiconductor components in the wireless industry.

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