Mobile WiMAX, the high-speed wireless standard for portable devices, has taken another step forward, with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approving the first WiMAX-class laptop card for the Clearwire network.
Clearwire, which was founded in 2003 by telecommunications pioneer Craig O. McCaw, is putting up WiMAX networks in about a dozen states across the U.S. and describes itself as the "world's largest WiMAX-class service provider."
The laptop card just approved by the FCC is part of Motorola's wi4 Expedience line. It fits into a standard Type II laptop card slot, and will give mobile PC users access to these up-and-coming WiMAX networks. The card is compatible with Microsoft Windows Vista and XP operating systems, and is expected to be available in the second half of this year.
A key question is whether today's FCC approval will feed the appetite among enterprise users for faster wireless access, and thus drive the market.
Perry Satterlee, Clearwire president and chief operating officer, said in a statement that the approval marks "a significant milestone in bringing to market a 'true broadband' wireless service."
Fixed and Mobile WiMAX
WiFi's popularity as a wireless standard was driven by laptop users, and WiMAX's trajectory could be expected to duplicate that.
Fixed WiMAX is a point-to-multipoint technology that is seen as a "last mile" solution for fixed, wired broadband delivery systems, such as cable or DSL. Mobile WiMAX, which The WiMAX Forum said will be showing up in laptops and PDAs throughout this year, is seen as a competitor to 3G high-speed cell-phone transmission systems. The WiMAX Forum is a non-profit industry group composed of operators, and component and equipment makers.
In the meantime, Clearwire is not the only service provider installing WiMAX networks. Sprint-Nextel is also on the job, announcing plans last year to invest as much as $3 billion through 2008 for building a mobile WiMAX network in the U.S., which they are also describing as 4G.
'Devices to Come'
But Avi Greengart, an analyst for industry research firm Current Analysis, said that there are still a lot of unknowns in Sprint's plans. When Sprint talks about their WiMAX plans, he said, they talk about "devices to come." He calls their strategy a "build it and they will come" approach.
Sprint-Nextel has said that it is working with Intel, Motorola and Samsung in developing its 4G/WiMAX network. Intel, among others, has been developing chipsets that accommodate both fixed and mobile WiMAX, for its Centrino Mobile products. At its recent Intel Developer Forum in Beijing, executives from the company said that it was dropping 3G support and would be focusing instead on WiMAX. Samsung has said it will also deliver mobile WiMAX devices for use on the Sprint-Nextel network.
Based in Kirkland, Washington, Clearwire provides service to about 8.9 million people in Alaska, California, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin in the United States, and about 1.2 million people in Ireland, Belgium and Denmark.