BIG GIRLS DON'T CRY, but last week disparaging comments about Intel's beloved Wimax by Nokia's head of sales and manufacturing left the chip giant feeling bluer than usual, and so sore that the CEO of Sprint, Dan Hesse, had to write to Chipzilla and mediate on Nokia's behalf.
The saga started last week at a Nokia launch in San Francisco, when Nokia executive Anssi Vanjoki told the Wall Street Journal that Wimax was doomed to failure.
Vanjoki proceeded to twist the knife by comparing the Intel-backed wireless mobile standard to Betamax, a now-forgotten video format which lost a format war to VHS back in the 1970s. Ouch.
"I don't see that Wimax is taking hold anywhere in a big way," sneered Vanjoki, adding that it was a classic example of industry standards clashing, where one would come out a winner whilst the other had to lose. He scathingly continued, "Betamax was there for a long time, but VHS dominated the market. I see exactly the same thing happening here."
Even more of a kick in the teeth for Intel is that, ironically, the Finnish phone maker is a founding member of the Wimax Forum, making this sudden and extreme shift towards far-off 4G wireless LTE all the more painful.
Shocked and dismayed, Intel seethed at the comments, to the extent that Sprint CEO Dan Hesse felt the need to step in and smooth Intel's ruffled feathers. A rather big deal by all accounts.
An email from Hesse to an Intel executive – surreptitiously obtained by the INQ – says that Vanjoki called him to deny comparing Wimax to Betamax and whining that he didn't talk about LTE and Wimax in that context at all.
Hess reckons "He was making general references to how technology winners and losers are chosen, that it's not the best technology that wins, but it's also other issues like the best business model, [and] marketing that determine which standards win and lose".
As Intel raised a profoundly cynical eyebrow, Hesse proceeded to pass on Vanjoki's assessment that it was all the WSJ hack's fault, making himself out to be the innocent victim of media manipulation. A surprisingly common excuse.
"He said the author plugged LTE and Wimax into his framework. He was providing a framework of what determines winning and losing standards, and did not opine on which ones will win and lose" Hesse blathered on, emulating an exceptionally smooth arse-covering dish cloth.
Nokia itself doesn't seem to have big enough reindeer balls to fess up to its gaffe. Instead, the fearful Finns have been to-ing and fro-ing over Wimax for yonks.
Back in 2004, Nokia left the Wimax Forum, only to shuffle back with head hung low a short while later. Then, last year, the firm launched a Wimax device – the N810 – which was promptly discontinued in January, with the firm taking great care to snivel that the move, "does not apply to other Wimax business development efforts that Nokia is involved in."
Oh Nokia, grow some sack!
It is true that Wimax has been plagued with delays and road bumps, but the technology now appears to be gaining something of a foothold in the developing world, as well as in Portland, Oregon, a reasonably developed city, with very few lepers.
Meanwhile, one could well ask, where is LTE? There are, in fact, currently no LTE trials, although Verizon Wireless swears blind it will have two by the end of the year. But even those will only be test networks with prototype, non-interoperable equipment. Hardly something to phone home about.
A source close to Intel told the INQ, "For now, LTE is nothing but a bunch of expensively-researched, well-polished and presented Powerpoint slides."
The source went on to say that other – dare we say smarter – players in the industry have seen Wimax as a technology able to coexist with 3G and alongside LTE.
Intel is promising embedded multi-mode chips and operators are widely expected to offer multi-mode handsets: HSPA + LTE, GSM + Wimax (Russian Scartel network) or EV-DO + Wimax (Sprint / Clear + KT networks).
This is because multimode is generally thought to provide the best of both worlds when it comes to coverage levels and high speeds to subscribers. It also drives competition, lowers costs and provides incentives to push innovation.
Nokia is hardly a small firm incapable of handling something as consumer-friendly as multi-mode, so why it would want to lay its bets on a technology only expected to emerge at some point in 2011 and limit consumer choice is a bit beyond us.
Unless, of course, they are getting a significant kickback from a certain US telco proponent of LTE, *cough*. µ
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