During the Consumer Electronics show earlier this month, Intel Chairman Craig Barrett said his company would be advising soon-to-be President Barack Obama to focus on wireless broadband and WiMAX as a way to get broadband access to every community in America. And I have to ask: Will it be Obama who makes mobile WiMAX become the widespread technology Intel has been trying to make it be for the last few years?
Reports indicate the president-elect is considering a broadband plan funded from of the Universal Service Fund, better use of the nation's wireless spectrum, promotion of next-generation technologies and new tax and loan incentives. Business Week recently reported the new Obama administration wants to put $20 billion to $30 billion into broadband buildout initiatives through these tax incentives.
The stakes are high for Intel and its quest to see mobile WiMAX succeed. It has invested $1 billion in the new Clearwire (the largest single investment Intel Capital has made), led standards bodies, built chips, funded early network development and pumped a lot of money into WiMAX vendors and operators to make sure this technology has a global footprint.
The hope is that computer manufacturers will see WiMAX is big enough to incorporate the technology into laptops, thus increasing the demand for its chipsets. But first, Intel needs to see a widespread interest in mobile WiMAX to drive interest in WiMAX-enabled laptops and other devices. So far, Intel has made a lot of investments and spoken of many ambitious plans, but has had difficulty driving the vast deployments it seeks.
Clearwire is supposed to be the operator that accelerates WiMAX and drives demand for Intel-powered chips. But things are off to a rocky start. Commercial networks are available so far in Baltimore and Portland, Ore., and Intel has already taken a $950 million write down from its investment in the operator. And the economy may slow down Clearwire's rollouts this year. Meanwhile, LTE, which has been adopted by the world's major mobile operators, is gaining ground.
That leaves Intel to do some heavy lobbying on Capitol Hill. If WiMAX found a home in every community in the U.S., that would be a major coup for the technology.--Lynnette