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Is the WiMAX-4G train leaving without Intel?

Qualcomm and start-ups steal the show

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Free Spectrum proves spectral

One of the utopians' ace cards - the dream of smart technology operating in unregulated spectrum unseating the incumbents - is also proving to be underwhelming.

The WiMAX lobby's efforts to de-regulate portions of spectrum have failed to result in a significant pay off. That's because the much vaunted "smart radio" or "intelligent antenna" technology has failed to deliver significant advantages to date, and both 3GPP and 3GPP2 vendors haven't been slow to experiment either.

"Every successful attempt to free up spectrum simply frees it up for everyone," notes Fuertes.

And without a significant technology advantage to boast of in its own "smart radio" research, Intel's K-Street gang really finds itself lobbying for everyone, not just itself.

As an example of the challenges of operating in unlicensed spectrum today, refer back to the comments we reported from AT&T's chief architect as he was discussing the company's initial Wi-MAX trials.

Behzed Nadji said AT&T felt reasonably confident of dabbling in unlicensed spectrum for the Alaskan trials, because there was little electromagnetic pollution up there. Well, of course not - there's more chance of being eaten by a grizzly bear than there is of competing radio causing interference. But Manhattan isn't Alaska, and that's where WiMAX needs to be proven to work more effectively than Super 3G, future iterations of CDMA EV-DO, or Flash-OFDM, if it is to convince the carriers that it's a carrier class consumer technology.

With much of the ground-breaking work being done by start-ups, Intel's best hope of becoming a credible carrier vendor may rest on its investments and acquisitions over the next couple of years. But when Qualcomm can turn on a dime, and rip up its roadmaps by snapping Flarion, it isn't the only technology vendor with a shopping cart.

But 4G is very real. Last week's WiMAX World show saw 3,000 attendees - about four times the size of the crowd drawn to the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco recently. While Flarion, we noted not so long ago, was acquired for one quarter of the price that eBay paid for Skype - another wireless utopian poster child. ®

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