WiMax Update: Waiting for Intel Silicon; Xohm Looks to Sept. Launch; Clearwire Preps for Deal Close

It was sort of a perfect storm of WiMax information Monday, as an Intel Centrino2 briefing followed our personal interview with Clearwire CEO Ben Wolff, the latter for an update on the progress of the new Clearwire national WiMax network. While it will take a day or two for us to process all the info from our call with Ben Wolff (we are still not up to Centrino speed around here), there were some nuggets from both interactions that are worthwhile to note:

Intel’s WiMax silicon is still not available. As the company has stated before, on Monday it reiterated that its dual Wi-Fi/WiMax silicon for notebooks will not be available to notebook OEMs until sometime in the second half of 2008. While Intel PR folks did confirm that the company’s promised reference design of a WiMax PC Card is now available to device manufacturers, the board-level silicon gap means that there won’t be WiMax-enabled PCs ready to ship when the first WiMax networks come online in the U.S. this fall. Is this a major problem? Probably not, since there won’t be much in the way of WiMax networks available until later in 2009 anyway. But it’s not a positive development, either.

Clearwire and Sprint must still operate separately until the “new” Clearwire deal closes in Q4. This has always been a somewhat murky question, but Clearwire CEO Wolff cleared it up — Clearwire will not have access to any of the new investment capital and cannot coordinate ongoing activities with Sprint until after the deal passes DOJ, FCC and shareholder approval. That means that for 2008, the “old” Clearwire will be looking to launch Mobile WiMax in Portland, Ore., while Sprint will keep its Xohm name around until at least January, with a September launch in Baltimore and later launches in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Sprint’s Xohm network is on schedule for September launch in Baltimore. Sprint Xohm guru Barry West was on stage at the Intel event Monday, and said the network will launch “between [September] 1st and the 30th,” and will have 150 cell sites offering “in-building coverage as well” in downtown Baltimore. “Despite what you’ve heard, WiMax is alive and well” and will launch in Baltimore, Chicago and Washington, D.C., West said.

Clearwire is already beta testing its Mobile WiMax network in Portland, Ore., and is pointing to a commercial “soft” launch by “early Q4.” “We’ve already started loading customers on the network in Portland,” said Wolff, who hopes to have a commercial “soft” launch by “early fourth quarter.” Clearwire will then take its learning experiences from Portland to its next scheduled launches, in Atlanta, Las Vegas and Grand Rapids, Mich. (ed. note: Better get that Vegas network ready by CES!) All Clearwire’s launches going forward will be Mobile WiMax, Wolff said. More on Clearwire from Ben Wolff in the next day or so! Promise!

Need to know more about WiMax? Order our recently updated WiMax report, with full analysis of the “new” Clearwire deal and the motivations for investors Comcast, Google, Intel and others.

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