WiMAX finally gains some ground in upcoming portables

Consumers are finally seeing WiMAX adoption across a small range of ultraportables and mobile Internet devices (MIDs), with plenty more reported to be coming. But the question is still "When?"

WiMAX, or Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, is based on the IEEE 802.16 standard, and can be simply classified as the next generation of Wi-Fi for wide-area deployments. WiMAX is considered a "4G" technology and has broad industry support, but it's run into numerous hurdles along the way.

Sprint's XOHM deployment of WiMAX has seen a soft launch in Chicago, Baltimore and Washington DC with a commercial launch in select US cities planned for later this year. Partners in the XOHM ecosystem include Intel, Motorola, Nokia/Nokia Siemens, and Samsung.

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Sprint's dedication to WiMAX was questioned after a management shakeup in January. However, the company recently said it was committed to the project despite rumors that cable operators and T-Mobile are interested in buying the business.

Hardware supporting XOHM is now starting to appear, but details on most devices are lacking.

Nokia unveiled its N810 Tablet with WiMAX support yesterday, though with few details. Nokia President Mark Louison said it will cost about the same as the original N810, which runs $440.

ASUSTek showed off a WiMAX-enabled version of its Eee PC at CES this year, but has not yet provided any details for that product's arrival in retail either. It will likely coincide with the availability of the next generation of those units which promise a larger screen and touchpad. Also making an appearance at CES this year was a Vista-powered and XOHM-compatible OQO MID.

Samsung's Q1 tablet is also expected to receive a XOHM upgrade in Fall 2008.

Everex, a company recently known for making budget computers sold at Wal Mart, has unveiled a new, vastly improved version of its ultramobile Cloudbook, the Cloudbook MAX, which isn't expected to go on sale for another year, but at least has a more complete specification list than other upcoming WiMAX devices.

Still, WiMAX faces major challenges before the technology can get off the ground. At a conference in Thailand last week, the CEO of a broadband company in Australia called WiMAX a "disaster" and detailed poor coverage and quality-of-service problems. Although many of the issues could be attributed to how the network was setup and the frequency used, it called into question the viability of the technology in actual deployment.

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