Wimax seeks killer devices

Lynnette Luna
02 Apr 2009

It appears the Wimax industry is facing the same problem that afflicts all new mobile technologies: a lack of devices, or at least compelling ones. That was the chief complaint of Sean Cai, deputy general manager of Wimax with ZTE, during February\'s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Cai noted that the largest barrier to Wimax adoption is the lack of end user devices supporting the technology.

That\'s not to say there isn\'t a plethora of USB modems, PC cards, subscriber modems and more recently Wimax -enabled laptops. But where are the sexy game-changing mobile devices‾ You\'ll have to travel to Russia to get one of those. HTC in November released the world\'s first integrated Wimax/GSM smartphone (an unlocked version costs about $1,600) based on the Windows Mobile operating system. Russian network operator Scartel sells the HTC Max 4G, which enables voice calls on any GSM networks and switches automatically to VoIP on Scartel\'s Wimax network.

Yota\'s Wimax network also allows subscribers to download and watch videos on the large, 3.8-inch touchscreen on the handset. The device can also display up to nine television channels simultaneously, carries a 5-megapixel camera for digital photos and a secondary camera for video calling.

It\'s not clear when Cleawire or its wholesale partners will get their hands on more compelling devices. None were showcased at the Consumer Electronic Show in January or last month\'s MWC. Nokia ended production of its N810 Internet Tablet Wimax Edition in January, and was one of the early device partners for Sprint Nextel\'s Xohm Wimax efforts. It\'s unclear now what Nokia\'s intentions are toward WiMAX. While one Nokia executive dismissed Wimax as a niche play, the company later came out to say that its decision to end production of the N810 \'does not apply to other Wimax business development efforts that Nokia is involved in.\'

However, Clearwire recently indicated there will be at least 100 mobile Wimax devices-including laptops, netbooks, handhelds and USB modems available to its Wimax customers by year-end.

Sprint, which has a 51% stake in Clearwire, has hinted at launching a tri-mode Wimax smartphone in 2010. The phone is expected to run on CDMA, Wimax and Wi-Fi, although the form factor of the handset is still being finalized. The device will operate over Clearwire\'s \'Clear\' network of services and would be the first standalone handset running on Wimax. Sprint is hoping for a home-run with an iconic iPhone-type device.

Clearwire, at least, is making Wimax routers much more exciting. The operator announced its intention to introduce a \'personal\' hotspot device that will launch at the end of the month that will combine Wimax and WiFi. Clearwire demonstrated the new battery-operated router from Cradlepoint Technology during CES in January. The device converts a Wimax signal into a WiFi signal that can connect to as many as eight Wi-Fi devices in a customer\'s home.

The offering is significant as it allows any device ranging from laptops to gaming devices to connect to Wimax via Wi-Fi. That helps the nascent operator to cast a wider net into the market. Motorola is also developing a CPE that combines Wimax with a Wi-Fi front-end radio but the vendor so far is only making that product for the 3.5 GHz band.

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