By Kevin Fitchard
TelephonyOnline - March 13, 2008
Alcatel-Lucent signs on with NextWave for WiMAX TV; device chipset maker Altair emerges
As LTE and WiMAX prepare to square off at CTIA, WiMAX chipset makers are ensuring they have plenty of ammunition. Alcatel-Lucent today said it would support NextWave’s new MXtv multicast video solution over its Evolium base station, and Israeli silicon vendor Altair Semiconductor came out of stealth mode with a low-power, tiny-footprint baseband chip targeted squarely at handsets and consumer electronics devices.
NextWave unveiled its MXtv platform on Monday but has already landed two infrastructure partners—the other is Huawei--willing to upload the TV software into their kits. Alcatel-Lucent is particularly significant, though, because of the traction the company has gained outside of the US for its beamforming smart antenna platform in fixed/nomadic deployments. But while NextWave’s new pet technology is gaining traction among base station vendors, the company still has to convince device makers of its virtues.
Though MXtv functions over normal WiMAX infrastructure and does not require a special radio at the device, it does require special firmware in the CPE chip, and so far only NextWave subscriber chips support that technology. Both Huawei and Alcatel-Lucent have agreed to use NextWave chips—which will begin shipping in the third quarter—in their own subscriber gateways, giving NextWave the inside track to selling MXtv to the vendor’s existing customers. But as Mobile WiMAX gains momentum and more devices become available, NextWave needs to penetrate further into the device ecosystem if it wants to get the technology off the ground.
NextWave plans to do this through the WiMAX Forum, which is already developing profiles for unicast TV. It if it can get MXtv standardized, it could license its technology to other chipset makers, and it’s hoping to build momentum for such a proposal by signing up vendors in the forum’s membership.
Altair is the latest chipset maker to emerge in an already crowded market. But Altair said it plans to distinguish itself by producing chips targeted solely at small form-factor devices like handsets and embedded consumer electronics rather than the current CPE and laptop card market. Altair co-founder and vice president of marketing and business development Eran Eshed said the company is accomplishing this by creating the smallest, most power-efficient WiMAX baseband chip in the market.
Eshed said Altair's new ALT2150 CPE chip consumes power at half the rate of the chipsets of its competitors Beceem Communications and Sequans Communications, and it occupies a footprint one quarter the size. Beceem and Sequans, Eshed said, have focused on the PC card and desktop CPE market, which has produced powerful chips, but ultimately chips unsuited for the sleek handheld devices that will ultimately dominate the Mobile WiMAX market.
"The requirements for a handset or smartphone are very much different than what you’d expect for a CPE chip,” Eshed said. Sequans CPE chip claims an industry leading 280 milliwatts of power. “That’s impressive, but it’s still four times more than what Wi-Fi chip uses, and people are still complaining that Wi-Fi drains too much power.” Altair claims its chip will drain 142 milliwatts at peak capacity, but will consume less than 100 milliwatts for most order data functions, such as making a VoIP call or streaming video.