Tech giant Intel has unveiled a chip that gives access to wide-reaching wireless networks.
The new chip uses Wimax, which enables broadband connections over several miles, unlike the short range of wi-fi used in specific locations. The company has announced a series of trials with partners, including BT, around the world. Wimax is seen as a method of extending broadband reach to whole cities, rural areas and countries with low net use.
It is also seen by some analysts as a potential competitor to mobile phone networks, although such a clash is still some way off. Intel and other Wimax supporters will be hoping that the release of a chip will do for the technology what Centrino chips did for the spread of wi-fi. The implementation of wi-fi-ready chips inside laptops by Intel helped propel the rapid growth of wi-fi networks around the world.
Will laptops soon be making use of Wimax technology? Sean Maloney, head of Intel's mobility unit, said many trials were under way, but the actual deployment of mobile Wimax would not start this year. "You'll probably see things at the back end of 2006, you'll probably see some... trials earlier than that," he told the Reuters news agency.
Intel's new chip, codename Rosedale, is expected to power devices to receive Wimax signals. Unlike wi-fi, which can be set up by individuals to form home networks, or in individual offices, cafes and airports, Wimax is engineered to cover an entire city or physical area.
It offers the potential of always-on, always-accessible broadband networks across a wide area and could have a huge impact on the use of the internet on the move, and in areas such as net telephony. Scott Richardson, general manager of Intel's broadband wireless business, said Wimax equipment was probably still too expensive for wide adoption, but that Intel and networking equipment makers were working to push equipment costs below $200 (£110) from the $300 to $500 level.
"It's our vision and our strategy to really drive that price point down," Mr Richardson said. Intel is working with a number of partners to develop standards for Wimax, and early versions of the technology are already in limited use. A pre-Wimax technology powers broadband connections on the London to Brighton train service in the UK.
"Most of the world does not have (broadband) infrastructure," said Mr Maloney. "For most of the world this will be how they will get broadband," he said. Meanwhile, Intel announced on Monday that the first PCs to use its new dual-core chips have gone on sale. Dual-core chips boost the processing power of chips and the new machines, made by Alienware, Dell and Velocity Micro, are aimed at computer hobbyists and gamers.