Intel drops 3G from Centrino

Intel has confirmed that it has pulled the plug on all plans to add 3G to its Centrino notebook platform. From now on, says the chipmaker, it's WiMAX all the way.

Intel has confirmed that it has pulled the plug on all plans to add 3G to its Centrino notebook platform. From now on, says the chipmaker, it's WiMAX all the way.

3G was slated to be part of the fourth-generation Centrino platform codenamed Santa Rosa and due for release on May 9, using an integrated 3G HSDPA card to be jointly developed by Intel and Nokia but in February this year, Intel announced it was abandoning the project.

Company spokeswoman Connie Brown said: "After doing further analysis, we decided it wasn't a good enough ROI to bring that product to the notebook market now."

However, Brown didn't rule integrated 3G out of Intel's notebook future. "We will continue to look into embedding 3G capability at some time" she said. "It's certainly on the table, but we're not ready to announce anything at this time."

That all changed yesterday at a media briefing prior to the start of Intel's Developer Forum (IDF) in Beijing when Mooly Eden, general manager of Intel's Mobile Platforms Group, decreed that Intel was leaving 3G in the hand of vendors and would devote its future energies to developing and promoting WiMAX.

"You're not going to get a 3G solution from Intel," Eden told ZDNet Australia. "There are 3G solutions from third parties, but if you look at 3G adoption it's still a one digit attach rate. We are going to focus on WiMAX, which we believe will be a more pervasive solution, and we are trying to work with the ecosystem to accelerate it worldwide."

Eden said that the decision to halt development of the Intel-Nokia 3G module was "nothing to be proud of, but we took the risk and at the end of the day financially it just didn't make sense".

Intel fell behind its original timetable outlined at last year's IDF/Spring to release a WiMAX notebook card by the end of 2006 and introduce an integrated WiMAX module into Santa Rosa.

Now it plans to pick up the pace with the release later this year of an internal mobile WiMAX card codenamed 'Dana Point', to be followed in 2008 with the 'Echo Peak' combo card containing both WiMAX and Wi-Fi.

Eden believes that Intel's strong WiMAX play will spur the wireless broadband technology to the same levels of growth as the original Centrino platform did for Wi-Fi.

"When we launched Centrino in 2003 the attach rate of Wi-Fi was 15 percent, now the attach rate is more than 95 percent. In the US by 2008 we are going to have more than 100 million people covered with WiMAX.

"Eventually more and more people will use wireless broadband going to WiMAX will be inevitable, because the combination of the technology and the economics is such that whatever you do at the end of the day, the monthly cost for a broadband solution will be cheaper on WiMAX than any other solution," he said.

Intel's renewed attention to WiMAX can't come too soon for Unwired, which holds the local licence for slabs of the relevant radio spectrum and has received a US$37 million investment from Intel on the basis that it would roll out WiMAX.

The wireless carrier plans to trial WiMAX in Sydney later this year and begin its network upgrade from its current proprietary microwave system to WiMAX in 2008, but already faces competition from 3G HSDPA mobile networks which are hitting between 1.8Mbps and 3.6Mbps.

David Flynn is attending IDF/Spring in Beijing as a guest of Intel.