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Monday, September 24, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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WiMax expected to shine at show

Seattle Times technology reporter

Wireless broadband equipment and service providers are gathering in Chicago this week to discuss what's just around the corner: live networks serving thousands of people.

At this year's WiMax World starting Tuesday, the spotlight will be on Kirkland-based Clearwire and Sprint Nextel, as they gear up to launch a nationwide mobile WiMax network early next year.

The show marks an industry-shaping moment in WiMax's history. For the first time, conversations won't focus on technical specifications, but rather the manufactured equipment that will be ready as soon as January.

"I think you'll see momentum by equipment and product vendors. You are going to be able to pick and feel a product. There won't be PowerPoints. You are going to see real products," said Mo Shakouri, vice president of marketing of The WiMax Forum, a trade association. "That's a positive step for us."

WiMax is similar to Wi-Fi, but can cover entire cities and provide faster speeds. The variety of WiMax being called mobile — as opposed to fixed — is the newest innovation and allows users to surf the Internet while they're on the move.

There's a small distinction between that and its predecessor technology, which Clearwire has been deploying in more than 30 cities nationwide.

Clearwire, founded by wireless entrepreneur Craig McCaw, sells a proprietary wireless broadband technology in which users connect through a modem that's plugged into an electrical outlet. That requirement and its bulkiness — about the size of a hardback book — make it cumbersome.

Mobile WiMax will likely first be used as a modem card that will be slipped into laptops and won't require its own electrical outlet. Eventually, WiMax modems could appear in many consumer electronics, such as digital cameras.

With mobile WiMax out early next year, the industry seems to be picking up steam. Last year, about 5,000 people attended the show in Boston. Organizers say the Chicago show could draw more than 150 exhibitors and 7,000 people.

Berge Ayvazian, chief strategy officer of The Yankee Group, said this show will be different because WiMax has hit a turning point.

"We are at that critical moment to deliver the promised reality of WiMax," he said.

Yankee forecasts that globally, WiMax subscriptions will increase to 27.7 million in 2011 from 3.4 million last year. In North America, Yankee said the numbers will increase to 7.8 million in 2011 from 1.3 million last year.

It's estimated that in 2011, a majority of the North American subscribers, or 7 million, will be using mobile WiMax technology, rather than earlier versions.

Yankee owns Trendsmedia, the company organizing this week's WiMax World.

The schedule includes a number of keynote addresses from top-level executives.

On Tuesday, the day before the show officially begins, executives from Ericsson and Qualcomm will participate in panel discussions on competing technologies. The primary competition to WiMax are cellular networks, which have upgraded to faster speeds over the past few years.

On Wednesday, when the conference officially starts, Sean Maloney, executive vice president and general manager of sales and marketing at Intel, will speak on "Preparing for the High Volume Era."

Intel has made major commitments to WiMax, including an investment in Clearwire. It hopes to integrate WiMax chips into laptop computers, similarly to how it integrated Wi-Fi.

Other speakers include Barry West, Sprint Nextel chief technology officer who is also in charge of its WiMax initiative named Xohm (pronounced Zoam); Padmasree Warrior, Motorola's chief technology officer, and Samsung Executive Vice President Wong-pyo Hong.

On Thursday, Clearwire Chief Strategy Officer Scott Richardson will discuss its vision, followed by speakers from LG-Nortel and IBM.

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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