Centrino 2 might sport 802.11n, but WiMAX comes later

* Pieces of WiMAX puzzle falling into place

Intel intends to ship its long-anticipated Centrino 2 mobile laptop platform this week. The platform will include enhanced Wi-Fi capabilities, but its dual-mode Wi-Fi 11n/WiMAX module (codenamed "Echo Peak") won't ship until "later this year," says an Intel spokeswoman.

It’s likely that the “enhanced Wi-Fi” capabilities will constitute an embedded Draft 2.0 802.11n radio connection, though Intel wouldn’t confirm that last week. Meanwhile, despite delays, the WiMAX-enabled module, which will support speeds of up to 10Mbps downstream and 4Mbps upstream, should ship in time for use with the nascent U.S. mobile WiMAX networks rolling out from Sprint and Clearwire.

Intel Centrino platforms bundle a CPU, chipset and wireless network interface(s) to allow laptop makers to gain certain efficiencies in their mobile PC designs. Centrino 2, previously codenamed Montevina, represents the fifth generation of Centrino technology. Such PC makers as Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo and Toshiba are reportedly planning to launch new notebooks concurrently with the release of Centrino 2, expected today.

In the U.S., the embedded 11n Wi-Fi connection is more immediately useful, of course, because of much more widespread availability of 802.11-based wireless LANs. The Sprint/Clearwire WiMAX joint venture, expected to close in the fourth quarter, expects to have the top 100 U.S. markets covered with mobile WiMAX service by late 2010. In the meantime, Clearwire is working on a soft launch of mobile WiMAX services in Portland, Ore.; Las Vegas; Grand Rapids; and Atlanta in 2008 that it expects to go commercial in Q1 2009. Sprint is currently busy launching its own services in Baltimore, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Mobile WiMAX technology is catching on more rapidly overseas, particularly in emerging markets without many other wired or wireless broadband network service choices. Currently there are more than 305 deployments of WiMAX services in 118 countries worldwide, according to the WiMAX Forum. (Compare WiMAX products)

Other recent WiMAX developments are also helping fill in the WiMAX picture:

* Earlier this month, the European Commission’s Radio Spectrum Commission harmonized European use of the 2.6GHz band for WiMAX, which should allow the commission to proceed with spectrum awards and product development for that band.

* Nokia released a WiMAX edition of its Nokia N810 Internet tablet for use in the U.S.

* Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Clearwire, Intel, Samsung and Sprint formed the Open Patent Alliance (OPA) to help obtain access to WiMAX patent licenses from patent owners at a predictable cost.

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