Technology Shakeout after 3GSM as Intel, Nokia Abandon HSDPA Plans

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10:00 am ET February 15, 2007 - An Intel spokesperson told BetaNews late Wednesday that Intel and Nokia both plan to continue pursuing new communications technologies (plural) to include with Intel's forthcoming Centrino Duo platform, but that they came to the joint conclusion that HSDPA wasn't one of them.

HSDPA, the spokesperson said, was "one particular program that was canceled," though Nokia and Intel remain committed to driving all other technologies forward, including their joint effort with WiMAX.

Although the spokesperson did not go so far as to say this means HSDPA won't be a part of Centrino Duo at all, she also didn't rule out the possibility that Intel has decided to exclude it. She did say the platform won't try to center itself around one set of choices, however, pointing to the fact that Intel is opting to include its own Wireless-n (draft 802.11n) technology, while probably continuing to support 802.11g as well.

3:50 pm ET February 14, 2007 - With the 3GSM World Congress winding down, and with global broadband technology leaders Vodafone, Sierra Wireless, and Novatel Wireless all having demonstrated HSDPA and complementary HSUPA (for uplinks) cards and adapters apparently to very receptive audiences, Nokia decided Thursday that its investment in a technology alliance with Intel to develop HSDPA chips for future Centrino Duo notebook computers may not pay off after all. Nokia has called off its HSDPA plans, telling Reuters from its headquarters in Finland, "We both saw that there was not an adequate business case."

The comment implies that Intel and Nokia came to the decision jointly, which is leading to speculation over whether HSDPA will be a part of Centrino Duo going forward. The two companies are apparently continuing their joint effort to develop WiMAX technology, as part of an alliance reached in June 2005, though that alliance has been directed toward handsets. As WiMAX's champion, Intel has often touted its superiority in throughput and efficiency, specifically over HSDPA.

Nokia's and Intel's HSDPA investigatory endeavors date back a few years, though their joint announcement that an HSDPA chip would contribute to Centrino Duo was made just last September. At that time, analysts believed it was a milestone announcement, but not all thought it was necessarily a milestone for HSDPA, but for what might come afterwards.

"The Nokia/Intel partnership to produce an embedded HSDPA Mini-card modem," ABI Research senior analyst Philip Solis wrote last October, "will not only accelerate the market for cellular connectivity in notebooks. Intel is also taking a first step towards the eventual inclusion of WiMAX wireless broadband in portable computers. The eventual goal is to offer multiple connectivity options."

Or maybe not, as Nokia may be heeding warnings from its competitors that the way to go forward could be to choose one option and build on that.

Vodafone, which is a market leader in HSDPA in many parts of the world and is co-parent of Verizon Wireless with Verizon Communications, sounded a clarion call at 3GSM for strategies that get the technical details on one standard worked out, so companies can move toward implementing services on that standard - because the big money is in services.

At a keynote session, Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin told attendees, "We need to move faster, otherwise others will eat our lunch...If we don't build on our broadband networks we will have the opportunity taken away from us."

As a major producer not only of handsets but of wireless cellular and broadband transmission equipment, Nokia could be one of the lunch-eaters to whom Sarin referred, though perhaps Nokia has a mind to change what's on the menu.

Just yesterday, Novatel Wireless announced its Merlin X950D ExpressCard wireless modem, which promises to provide 7.2 Mbps of downstream capability and 2.1 Mbps upstream via HSUPA. Versions of the same technology in this modem will be built into embedded chips for notebooks, with the brand name "Expedite" - chips which up until this morning appeared ready to do battle with Nokia.

Meanwhile, Sierra Wireless was reportedly giving live demonstrations all over the 3GSM floor of its AirCard 880, which also takes advantage of HSUPA. For customers who rely on uplink capability to do business, not just watch videos and "experience" media, such demonstrations can make a very convincing case. European carriers such as Telefonica and Nortel were reportedly already on board with Sierra.

The handwriting was not only on the wall for Nokia and Intel, it was also on the floor, the ceiling, and posted to every kiosk. The two companies may now need to make one option work, and prove it's the right alternative.

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