MacBook Air has no WiMax; is Apple on to something?

Few people care about high-speed wireless WiMax, analyst says

WiMax-capable prototypes from several vendors were a big part of the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last week, but the faster wireless networking did not figure into the stylishly thin MacBook Air laptop announced at Macworld Tuesday.

Is it possible that Apple and Steve Jobs are 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?

Apple representatives did not respond to calls or e-mails 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 Universal Serial Bus 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 neighbors care? Mine don't."

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

Last week at the CES trade show, Sprint's Xohm unit for the development of WiMax proclaimed that it was on target with its ambitious US$5 billion 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 midyear. 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 Asustek Computer showed off UMPC capabilities and other devices. Zyxel also showed a WiMax modem.

Sprint officials said that laptops and ultramobile PCs from Acer, Lenovo Group, Matsushita Electronic Industrial Co.'s Panasonic Corporation of North America and Toshiba 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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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld

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