Intel: WiMax doesn’t have to win

June 12, 2008, 5:08 PM UTC
Intel has begun building platforms that combine its microprocessors with WiMax wireless technology. Image: Intel

About a year ago, Intel talked about WiMax as if it’s the technology that will wirelessly connect the world’s gadgets for high-speed Internet surfing. After all, that’s why Intel has shepherded the standard along for the past several years, backing it with expensive research and building it into the Centrino 2 mobile platform, code-named Montevina, that it plans to announce this year.

But mention WiMax these days and Intel’s , a struggling company working with Sprint Nextel to build a U.S. WiMax network. But lately alternative high-speed technologies such as Long Term Evolution have gained steam – Nortel yesterday announced that like AT&T and Verizon , it’s betting on LTE – and Intel is now talking about WiMax as just one of many great high-speed options.

“There doesn’t have to be one solution to this problem,” Intel Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner told me on Wednesday. “We have cable and DSL, and we don’t care how you get the bits into your house. We just know that having the bits there drives the consumption of our silicon products.”

Intel sales and marketing chief Sean Maloney last week made similarly neutral statements about the future of wireless. Information Week quoted Maloney saying that WiMax “ought to be harmonized” with LTE, so that customers aren’t confused. Those don’t sound like battle cries from a company fighting to the death for a mobile standard.

While it’s true that any kind of widely available wireless broadband would help Intel sell more chips, a WiMax win would be better for Intel’s business. Why? Since Intel has been working on the technology for so long, it stands to profit if there’s a surge in demand for WiMax-related gear.

After all, that was the point of building WiMax technology into its Montevina platforms. Will Intel execs be happy if we get wireless broadband soon, no matter what it’s called? Sure. But despite the new tone, you can bet they’ll be happier if it’s WiMax.