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Is WiMax next for Apple's MacBook Air?

High-speed wireless to take off in 2008

While several prototype laptops supporting the next-generation WiMax wireless standard were on show at CES last week, Apple decided to ignore faster wireless networking when building the MacBook Air, which was announced at Macworld Expo on Tuesday.

Is it possible that Apple is cooking up something for WiMax in coming months? Or, as some say, could it be that the WiMax market isn't there yet, and Apple understands that with its keen marketing prescience?

See also:

MacBook Air: Hands-on first look

Apple representatives did not respond to requests for comment on the company's WiMax plans. However, Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney was blunt about what he thinks is going on.

"Few [people] care about a WiMax rollout right now," Dulaney said. "It's Gartner's belief that WiMax will struggle for now. The demand for integrated high-speed data in laptops has not been as robust as early projection in the press would have predicted."

Still, the MacBook Air could quickly be made WiMax-capable with a USB dongle, other analysts noted.

Dulaney pointed to a broad lack of interest in WiMax among both consumers and business users. "The rationale for another data network and more monthly charges just aren't in the corporate mind-set," he said. As for consumers, Dulaney said, "do any of your neighbours care? Mine don't."

Dulaney's attitude is decidedly at odds with well-developed plans for WiMax in the US within Sprint Nextel, Intel, Motorola, Nokia and others.

Last week at CES, Sprint's Xohm unit for the development of WiMax proclaimed that it was on target with its ambitious $5bn nationwide network rollout, set to launch in 20 markets starting in April. Intel officials talked about an Echo Peak dual module for WiMax and Wi-Fi that will be available for laptops by the middle of 2008. On the show floor, Intel displayed several mobile internet devices that could be equipped with WiMax chips.

Nokia and Samsung Telecommunications America described plans for handheld devices and modules, such as USB-dongles and laptop cards that would bring WiMax speeds to mobile devices.

OQO said it would embed WiMax into its ultramobile PC later this year, while Asus showed off UMPC capabilities and other devices. Zyxel also showed a WiMax modem.

Sprint officials said that US laptops and ultramobile PCs from Acer, Lenovo, Panasonic and Toshiba Corp will have embedded WiMax chips by midyear.

Clearwire, which has nearly 350,000 pre-WiMax subscribers for wireless internet access, joined Intel and Motorola in demonstrating WiMax capabilities in a Chevrolet Suburban driven around the street of Las Vegas last week. Just yesterday, Chrysler announced that it is developing an advanced wireless communications system that will eventually provide WiMax connectivity.

There's "Motown momentum for WiMax", said John Polivka, a spokesman for Xohm. "I'd say interest is building for WiMax."


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