Intel looks to break into Europe with WiMAX

The cellular industry has proven to be a hard and frustrating business for Intel to crack. For years it has spoken of ambitious plans and invested heavily--with little, if any, tangible result.

But the company refuses to give up--and for this it must be given credit, as it plunges into the unproven European WiMAX market, the bastion of 3G and HSPA.

Its latest investment is for a 2.6GHz licence in Sweden that it intends to use for mobile WiMAX. While Intel has paid US$26 million for this 15-year spectrum it has no ambition to build or run the network--and is reported to be looking for a partner to run this side of the business. Anyone interested…?

The Nordic countries are some of the most advanced when it comes to wireless usage, and launching WiMAX--unless there is a drop-dead business case, looks a touch difficult.

Not willing to stop here, an Intel executive recently stated that the U.K. would have nationwide WiMAX coverage within two years. Without detailing the practicalities of how this might come to fruition, Ashish Patel, the MD of Intel Capital EMEA, pointed to the booming HSPA dongle business as evidence of demand for high-speed mobile data.

To trigger the mobile WiMAX market, Patel said that Intel would integrate the technology into its upcoming Centrino 2 platform by the end of this year. While this is pleasing to note--will it persuade someone to build a hugely expensive network to support these users?

Intel would point towards U.K.-based Freedom4, which has Intel as an investor, and has undertaken trials of mobile WiMAX in two U.K. cities with plans to provide coverage of 50 others.

While the business case for the wide deployment of WiMAX might be justified in the U.S., in Europe--with its heavy penetration of 3G users and acceptable coverage, the chance of mobile WiMAX being a success for Intel must remain highly questionable--but also very watchable. -Paul