WiMax broadband wireless technology will clear a hurdle today as Intel announces volume shipments of its Rosedale chip for the wireless broadband technology, people familiar with the company's plans said this week.

Rosedale is a "system on a chip" for modem-like devices that would send and receive data from a base station that could be several miles away. The chip includes a media access control component for the IEEE 802.16-2004 standard and a time-division multiplexing controller interface to support voice and streaming data.

Intel integrated these components on the chip as part of its focus on low-cost equipment, which it believes will make wireless broadband a success. Some earlier wireless broadband technologies have stalled because of the cost of proprietary equipment and the need for engineers to set up a "line-of-sight" connection for each customer's antenna.

Intel has put its marketing weight behind WiMax for years as standards development dragged on, but the chip giant finally is supporting the technology the way it knows best, churning out silicon. Equipment vendors including Alvarion, Proxim, Redline Communications, and ZiMax Technologies all have announced agreements to use Intel silicon in products based on the IEEE 802.16-2004 standard that Rosedale addresses.

Intel is not the first chipmaker to announce WiMax silicon, but it carries a lot of weight as both a high-volume chip leader and the rich uncle of the WiMax family, ready to put marketing dollars behind the technology.

Rosedale hitting the market marks a significant moment for WiMax, according to Michael Cai, an analyst at Parks Associates, in Dallas. "The industry is really looking at Intel, because it's been positioned as the leader in the WiMax space," Cai said.

However, opinions are mixed on the potential for fixed WiMax, which in many parts of the world will compete against well-established DSL and cable modem services. Even Intel has said the larger opportunity lies in IEEE 802.16e, a standard still under development that will allow for WiMax services to mobile devices such as notebook PCs. That technology is expected to hit the market in 2007 or 2008.