Intel and Taiwan Inc. Partner for OSS Research, WiMAX Rollout

Intel announced today that the sultan of silicon will partner with the Taiwanese government and invest in the Republic’s IT industry to launch a Software Development Center for Open Source mobile devices.  Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini indicated that the company had inked a formal agreement with the Taiwan Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA).  Together, Intel and ROC ministry staff will establish a lab for enabling Intel’s Linux-based Moblin platform, as well as other open source software, targeting devices built around the Intel Atom processor.  Simultaneously, the company’s venture arm, Intel Capital, will invest NT$386M (US$11.5M) in Taiwanese carrier VMAX to support deployment of Taiwan’s first mobile WiMax network during 1H/2009.

This move by Intel has something in it for for everyone:  it benefits Intel, helping to consolidate the position of newly-minted mobile/embedded Atom CPUs.  It helps Taiwanese OEMs, who quickly launched Atom-based devices (many based on WindowsXP), but who are scrambling for availability of richer (and cheaper) Linux-based software stacks with more extensive localization and local value-added through software.  It’s a good deal for Taiwanese consumer, who’ll enjoy high-bandwidth wireless access together with blazing data and streaming media.  And the goodness ripples out across the Taiwan Straights and the Pacific Ocean and behond, since Taiwan-based rollouts of new ideas and gadgets open markets for cost-down, high-volume versions of the same technologies and devices off the island and over the horizon.

This double-whammy announcement gives hope to fans of the MID and mutes its critics – Intel is serious about the MID as more than a collection of empty sockets to fill.  Industry analysts project Atom-based MIDs will climb to worldwide shipments of 86M+ units by 2013. Certainly more potential than the beleaguered Linux desktop, and interesting volumes in their own right, but still a mere ripple in the global mobile pond when compared with today’s billion-plus volumes for 2.5/3G handsets.

Endowing the nascent MID class with a gushing fat WiMAX pipe, combined with software interoperability with desktop and server Linux, opens this converged platform to dizzying new possibilities. Milliwatt-consumption Atoms loaded with with Linux-based Moblin, connected to the Cloud via high speed WiMAX add charm and substance to Intel’s vision for MIDs.  I like the idea of long-lived, well-provisioned, connected mobile devices with always on, always available multimedia and social networking.

Now if only my middle-aged fingers were dexterous enough to use their tiny keyboards and my aging eyes were up to reading MIDs’ high resolution displays . . . I’ll leave that part to Generation MID.

Conspicuous by its absence in the announcement is the subject of VOICE.  Intel positions MIDs precisely as “Mobile Internet Devices”.  However, the MID form factor overlaps the spec and size for many of today’s 2,5G
and 3G smartphones (e.g., from Taiwanese HTC who build WindowsMobile handsets, and starting in October, Google/Android G1 devices). Moreover, WiMAX is not merely a WiFi replacement, but rather a
longer-haul WAN technology.  WiMAX is a technology that forms the backbone of announced 4G rollouts by carriers like Sprint, ClearWire, Packet 1, UQ and other Intel partners. So, developing open source
software for WiMAX-enabled MIDs could very well support a revolution not just in data and multimedia, but in voice-based communications. OSS-powered MIDs and WiMAX could extend today’s operator-licensed
paradigms or re-invent person-to-person communication with point-to-point voice and video over WiMAX and also the establishment of non-traditional operator networks – MVNOs with enterprise, academic and
community backing.

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