Intel will show off a prototype of the guts of a WiMax base station next week at Supercomm, aiming to help equipment vendors get started making gear for the high-speed wireless standard.

The Glenfield reference design is Intel's first for network infrastructure for WiMax, a technology strongly backed by Intel that is expected to start hitting the market by the end of this year. Company officials discussed it at an Intel press event on Thursday. The board is built around an Intel network processor for MAC (media access control) functions and a PicoChip Designs physical-layer component. It can be customized by base-station vendors to meet their needs, according to Scott Richardson, general manager of Intel's broadband wireless division.

Standards to lower cost

Glenfield was built using ATCA (Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture), which Intel has aggressively promoted as a design standard for network equipment. Intel sees ATCA taking carrier gear beyond the usually proprietary architectures of today to modular systems that can be developed more quickly and at lower cost using components from many manufacturers.

A company spokeswoman said Intel also will show off three other ATCA designs at Supercomm, which starts on Monday in Chicago. Richardson acknowledged true modularity for carrier gear lies years ahead and said system makers could use the technology in Glenfield to make either proprietary or ATCA-based equipment.

Service provider push

WiMax is designed for wireless broadband over an area of several miles that gives subscribers similar speeds to DSL (digital subscriber line) and cable modem services. A future version now under discussion would allow that service to go mobile. In introducing Glenfield, Intel laid out what it sees as two classes of WiMax base stations. Glenfield is intended for high-end base stations that would be similar to current cellular equipment, with separate processing boxes and antennas, and could be installed at existing cell towers, Richardson said. Another type of base station would be smaller and less expensive and could be placed on buildings or light poles. That type might be used with either licensed or unlicensed frequencies.

There are about 200 Glenfield boards already being evaluated by system manufacturers, according to Intel, but the company would not disclose the names of those vendors. Additional product development steps such as developing management software and building in a high-speed uplink to a network backbone will be up to them, Richardson said.