Intel's Small Future Is Big on WiMax

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This Top Tech News story reports on the Intel Developers Forum, which was held this week in Beijing. The theme is Intel's attempt to find the right formula in the small footprint computer sector.


It seems that the one thing vendors don't doubt is that there is a thriving market to be had in the space below laptops and above cell phones. The question seems to be whether this market will be dominated by small computers or smart phones.


But, to this point, the small computer folks haven't quite been able to nail it. For instance, this article says, Samsung sold fewer than 100,000 ultra mobile PCs (UMPCs) during the past year. In a strategy that probably isn't taught at business school, Intel is responding to the slow sales by introducing a second class of products that overlaps the first.


The Linux-driven Mobile Internet Device (MID) is an Internet terminal that is so close to the UMPC that it is based on the same basic design, the Ultra Mobile platform 2007. Perhaps Intel executives are confident that the small computer sector will split into two basic food groups -- with tablets thrown in for good measure.


We admit that we are confused, and that's even before considering all the code names that Intel throws around. The design for the new UMPCs and MIDs, for those keeping score, was formerly McCaslin. Now, apparently, it will be known as Menlow, using a processor called Silverthorne and a chipset call Poulsbo. Or something like that.


One person who isn't confused is fellow ITBE blogger Rob Enderle, who has done an enviable job of delineating the big picture. He presents a plausible theory on Intel wants to go. Short version: Envision a picture of Earth with "Intel Inside" written on it (actually, it would have to be written in the atmosphere). Key elements of this will be WiMax -- a wireless platform the company has long championed -- UMPCs, MIDs and powerful processing at the core.


There seems to be a disconnect between the expansive vision of the UMPC/MID and the lack of success that the small computer category has had so far. It's hard to argue with the supposition that the market is there, however. Small form-factor computer companies have seen smart phones grab the early lead. In the long run, however, the most powerful infrastructure will win -- especially in the bandwidth-sensitive mobile sector.


This, Intel and many others are willing to bet, will be those that primarily rely upon WiMax and not 3G.