AT&T, Intel Explore WiMAX Together

AT&T is assisting Intel to develop the semiconductor firm's Roseville family of WiMAX chips scheduled for release next year. As AT&T has retreated from consumer landline-telephone markets, it has increasingly directed its attention to voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) and WiMAX, the wireless wide-area technology.

"In the U.S., there are 270,000 office buildings," AT&T's chief technology officer Hossein Eslambolchi told Business Week, reported in its current issue. "WiMAX could get us to the 200,000-plus buildings we don't connect to directly today. It's a wireless technology that's showing a significant amount of promise."

Intel has already made known its determination to remain in the vanguard of the emerging WiMAX technology, and AT&T is looking at WiMAX as an end-run around the former Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) that are beginning to raise the rates they charge AT&T and other long-distance companies, including MCI, to connect to their local networks.

The FCC meets Wednesday to discuss rules to permit the RBOCs to continue raising the rates they charge AT&T and MCI to connect to their networks. Through a series of complex court decisions and litigation over the various rules, AT&T and MCI have decided they can't make a profit by going through the RBOCs, so they are easing out of the consumer market. One tactic AT&T is employing is to team up with Intel to develop products like WiMAX that will enable it to sidestep the RBOCs and connect directly with customers, primarily business customers.

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AT&T said it is contributing its antenna expertise to Intel to improve WiMAX speed and distance performance. The WiMAX Forum already specifies 40 Mbps as a speed goal, and the technology is expected to reach a distance of at least 28 miles.

Business Week said AT&T chairman David Dorman and Intel CEO-in-waiting Paul Otellini have had two face-to-face meetings to discuss their joint R&D agreement.