Intel pulls out of 3G. Ericsson pulls out of WiMax. Does a wireless battle royale loom?

Reminder: Centrino is a brand, not a technology. To the extent that it practically tried to co-opt Wi-Fi standards (the message at one time was that you needed Centrino to connect to a WLAN, not Wi-Fi compatibility), I've found it to be a bit deceptive.

Reminder: Centrino is a brand, not a technology. To the extent that it practically tried to co-opt Wi-Fi standards (the message at one time was that you needed Centrino to connect to a WLAN, not Wi-Fi compatibility), I've found it to be a bit deceptive. But Intel has, over the years, disagreed. Even so, Centrino is a name for a bundle of Intel parts that's designed to move more Intel radios into the market than might otherwise have happened. For a notebook to bear the Centrino logo, it must have certain parts, one of them being an Intel-made radio. If Intel goes a good job marketing Centrino, then people will think they need Centrino-labeled notebooks and the result will be more radio business for Intel and less for the third parties that have yet to be proven to build an inferior part (and who may even build a better one).

So, it should come as no big surprise that, much the same way that some notebook companies have been including 3G wireless broadband radio technology in certain offerings (eg: IBM and Dell), Intel had an one time contemplated making including 3G radios (ones that would connect to a network like the one offered by Verizon Wireless) an option of the Centrino platform. But those plans have been apparently scuttled.  Reports ZDNet Australia's David Flynn:

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

Flynn goes on to report:

"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."

The math is pretty easy. Intel doesn't make 3G radios. It was going to partner on them with Nokia. But, as Flynn reported, "In February, Intel announced it was abandoning the project" (related: Nokia to sell WiMax phones in 2008). Meanwhile, Intel's commitment to WiMax has been unwavering. Just search "Intel WiMax" and you'll see what I mean. Intel makes WiMax radios. In fact, Intel is one of the biggest backers of WiMax in the world. I'm not hitting on Intel for its decision. In fact, in the demonstrations I've seen, WiMax makes 3G look like Comcast's turtles (the Slowskys).  

But now the question is whether a wireless battle royale looms.

On one side is Intel, working "with the ecosystem to accelerate it worldwide." Lest you think that missionary work is so that Intel can capitalize on notebook sales, think bigger. Intel stands to make money on carrier-grade WiMax deployments as well.  More notebook WiMax notebook deployments could build demand with the carriers. More carrier-based deployments of WiMax could boost demand for WiMax-flavored Centrino systems. 

But whereas Intel and others (including Sprint) are gung-ho about WiMax, other communications giants such as Ericsson are saying 3G is where its at. According to a report from Unstrung dated last month:

Networking giant Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC - message board) is pulling the plug on its development of WiMax to concentrate on upgrading the 3G cellular technology it favors for broadband speeds....The company confirmed on Thursday afternoon that it stopped internal WiMax development efforts at the end of last year ....."Right now, we don't work on a WiMax system," says Mikael Persson, manager of strategy and business development for WCDMA at Ericsson. ".....we don't see the volumes in the market...We want to focus our resources where we'll get the most bang for our buck. And right now, there's no bang at all putting it into WiMax," says Persson. "HSPA is where the market is happening right now. I'm really puzzled by this. I don't understand how this market [WiMax] will survive."

Two companies (Intel, Ericsson) making some bet-the-farm bets. Who is your money on?