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Just What Is "Broadband Wireless?"

Broadband is a term with almost as many meanings as the word "wireless." But combine the two terms, and the resulting broadband wireless (often combined with the word "access" to create the acronym BWA) area suggests a market that could eclipse anything that high-frequency design engineers have seen until now, including opportunities in military electronics.

Some fairly large electronics firms have made their intentions known concerning the emerging broadband wireless market. Intel Corp., for example, offers its white paper "Broadband Wireless: The New Era in Communications" for free download on its web site as a tutorial lesson on the differences between key broadband wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, WiMAX, wideband code-division-multiple-access (WCDMA), and ultrawideband (UWB) technologies. As the white paper notes, no one technology will become universal or replace others; rather, the technologies will co-exist.

Curiously, one of the broadband wireless technologies not mentioned in the white paper is the millimeter-wave link. Cisco Systems, for example, has made numerous presentations on the merits of millimeter waves for wireless video and networking. And the forward-looking firm founded by Louis Slaughter and Doug Lockie, GigaBeam Corp., hosts a web page that presents point-to-point wireless at 71 to 76 GHz and 81 to 86 GHz as the "alternative to fiber." Traditionally, millimeter-wave components have offered large bandwidths, but with large price tags. In the past, applications such as Local Multipoint Distribution Service (LMDS) have faltered due to the lack of cost-effective millimeter-wave components, so the task ahead of GigaBeam and other BWA millimeter-wave players is not trivial. But stranger things have happened.

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