Intel and WiMAX in 2010

By Robert Burgelman, Margaret LaBrecque, Debra Schifrin
2010 | Case No. SM179

In the spring of 2010, Intel was regarded as an important champion for a new broadband technology called WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access). WiMAX transmitted large amounts of data over radio signals, and offered much greater range than Wi-Fi. It also offered much faster connection speeds than 3G networks run by AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. WiMAX was a new space for Intel, and the company hoped it would yield the same type of profitability and success for Intel that Wi-Fi had. Between October 2008 and May 2010, Intel had joined forces with Clearwire, Sprint, Motorola and other partners to launch WiMAX in about 30 U.S. cities. Intel’s vision for the deployment of WiMAX evolved from fixed wireless (for broadband connectivity to homes and businesses) to portable wireless (laptops) to mobile wireless (handheld devices and high-end smart phones), as the company spent billions of dollars on acquisitions and investments in the WiMAX arena. But Intel faced many challenges with WiMAX. A large infrastructure would have to be built from the ground up in the U.S. and around the world, and WiMAX needed a least a few major cellular operators to choose it as their next-generation (4G) technology. Intel would have to create a new 4G ecosystem to convince equipment manufactures to embed WiMAX technology in its devices. In addition, WiMAX faced stiff competition from other new wireless technologies, including LTE (Long Term Evolution), which AT&T and Verizon planned to use when they upgraded from 3G to 4G technology. Although WiMAX had a two- to three-year lead over LTE, the size of the mobile operators already committed to LTE threatened to make WiMAX a niche technology. The case details how the WiMAX unit at Intel came into existence, and how it grew and changed over the years. It also addresses the battle between Low Power Intel Architecture (LPIA) and a competing microprocessor architecture called ARM, which dominated the cell phone and consumer electronics market.

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